2006 Summer Meeting Highlights

Meeting Highlights
AAPT 2006 Summer Meeting — Syracuse, NY
July 22-26, 2006

The 2006 AAPT Summer Meeting was held on the campus of Syracuse University, in Syracuse, New York, July 22-26. The Syracuse campus, located in central New York State, was easily accessible by automobile for many of the more than 1,100 meeting participants. The weather was excellent during most of the meeting, except for a few brief rain showers, with daytime temperatures in the mid-eighties (oF) and night-time temperatures in the mid-seventies (oF). The focus of the meeting was the celebration of AAPT’s 75th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of PSSC.

In the week preceding the AAPT meeting, the fifth Summer Institute of the Rural PTRA Initiative was held in the physics department at Syracuse University, with 80 Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA) attending an intensive week of workshops presented by fellow PTRA and other professional educators. The PTRA program has extended into more rural areas by establishing Rural Centers at colleges and universities throughout the United States, with funding provided by an NSF grant. Approximately 600 teachers participated in workshops at the 22 Rural Centers this summer. The PTRA program began in 1985, and its 21st anniversary was celebrated with a picnic hosted at the end of the week-long conference. Additional information about the PTRA program, including pictures from this year’s institute, can be found at the PTRA website. (www.aapt.org/PTRA/index.cfm)

The AAPT topical workshop Teaching General Relativity to Undergraduates was held July 20–21. Forty-five faculty from a variety of colleges and universities attended. The program was organized by a committee chaired by Michelle Larson of the Center for Gravitational Wave Physics at Penn State. Other committee members were James Hartle (UCSB), Charlie Holbrow (AAPT), Dale Ingram (LIGO-Hanford), Richard Price (Univ. of Texas, Brownsville), Peter Saulson (Syracuse Univ.), John Thacker (LIGO-Livingston), and Stamatis Vokos (Seattle Pacific Univ.)

Conference participants explored how to teach undergraduates the basic concepts and important phenomena of general relativity. They emphasized gravitational radiation and LIGO, deviation from Newtonian gravitation and GPS, as well as black holes. LIGO/Caltech, the NSF Physics Frontier Center for Gravitational Wave Physics at Penn State, the Syracuse University Department of Physics, and AAPT all provided support for the workshop. Information about the program and the conference proceedings are available at www.aapt-doorway.org/TGRU.htm.

About 211 graduate students and faculty attended the Physics Education Research Conference (PERC) at the end of the AAPT meeting. The theme of PERC2006 was "Discipline-Based Education Research in Other STEM Disciplines." Targeted poster sessions, roundtable discussions, workshops, and panels were utilized to encourage participation and aid in the exchange of ideas about issues related to research in other STEM disciplines. The conference organizers are publishing proceedings from the conference and additional information is available on the conference website. (http://web.phys.ksu.edu/perc2006)

A similar conference is being planned in conjunction with the 2007 AAPT Summer Meeting, which will be held at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

Workshop and Continuing Education Opportunities
There were 790 registrations (395 individual registrants) for the 40 workshops and tutorial sessions offered over a two-day period preceding the paper presentations. Sam Sampere, of the Syracuse University Physics Department, was very helpful in making arrangements for the AAPT workshops and for the PTRA Summer Institute held earlier. Many of the workshops presented various approaches to teaching physics concepts based on findings from physics education research and by utilizing computer-related technology. Some of the popular workshops were: Physics and Toys II: Energy, Momentum, Electricity, and Magnetism; VPython: 3D Programming for Ordinary Mortals; Learn Physics While Practicing the Processes of Science; Video-Based Motion Analysis for Homework and Classroom Use; What Every Physics Teacher Should Know About Cognitive Research; Preparing Pre-College Teachers to Teach Physics by Inquiry; Facilitation in the Active Physics Learning Classroom; Physics of Cell Phones and Wireless Communications; Building Physics Teacher Pedagogical Content Knowledge; and Tutorials in Introductory Physics;

Members of the Physics Instructional Research Association (PIRA) again presented a two-day lecture demonstration workshop, which was very popular. Two workshops on introductory and intermediate educational laboratories also attracted many participants. Eleven commercial workshops added additional educational opportunities.

The Paper Sessions
The meeting offered 128 invited papers, 211 contributed papers, 243 poster papers, and seven crackerbarrels organized into 80 sessions. There was a concerted effort to increase the number of poster papers by shortening the time allotted to contributed papers and increasing the time and space available for poster papers. This effort was generally successful, representing an 84 percent increase over the number of posters presented at the 2005 Summer Meeting; while the number of contributed papers decreased by 25 percent. However, the number of invited papers increased by almost 50 percent, compared to 2005, resulting in nine or more parallel sessions throughout most of the meeting.

Several of the paper sessions highlighted the 75th anniversary of AAPT and the 50th anniversary of PSSC, such as Oersted Medalists Speak from the Past; Evolution of the Physics Laboratory; the PIRA sponsored session, 75 Years of Physics Apparatus I and II, and PSSC 50th Anniversary I and II. A number of sessions were devoted to pedagogical issues: Cognitive Conflicts and Inquiry Based Methods of Physics Education, Research on the Learning and Teaching of Chemistry, Quantitative Assessment of Physics Models, PER in Upper Level Courses, and Bridging Multiple Representations. In addition, a number of sessions focused on the preparation of K-12 physics and physical science teachers: Successfully Preparing K-8 Teachers to Teach Physics Topics, Teachers in Residence: A Reciprocal Learning Experience, Implications of Standards-Based Education, Innovations in Physics Teacher Preparation, and University and K-12 Partnerships That Work.

Several of the sessions had papers that addressed specific sub-disciplines in the undergraduate curriculum. Typical sessions of this type include: Electromagnetism: Physics Research and Education Research, Applications of Physics in Medicine, Energy and the Environment, Physics Topics, and Conceptual Understanding of Astronomical Phenomena. Other well-attended session include: Teaching with Technology, Hot Topics in Physics, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, Computation in the Physics Curriculum, and TPT and Me. The meeting also provided an opportunity for undergraduate students to showcase their research in a special poster session and in a paper session titled SPS Undergraduate Research. The abstracts for all papers presented at the 2006 Summer Meeting are available online at www.aapt.org/AbstractSearch.

Award and Plenary Sessions
At the Wednesday 75th Anniversary Luncheon and Ceremonial Session, Art Hobson, from the University of Arkansas, gave the Robert A. Millikan Award Lecture titled Thoughts on Physics Education for the 21st Century. The Millikan Award recognizes teachers who have made notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics.

Hobson’s presentation centered on the idea that physics teachers must broaden their thinking from physics-for-physicists and other scientists to physics-for-all. According to Hobson, a first physics course for all students (even science majors) should be a conceptual course that describes the universe as we understand it today and includes general relativity, modern cosmology, and quantum field theory. The course should also emphasize the scientific process and feature socially relevant topics, from global warming to nuclear weapons, which are important for an informed citizenry.

Lisa Randall, from Harvard University, delivered the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture titled Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. Randall discussed what the consequences might be if extra dimensions required by string theory were not curled nor observably small, but, instead, uncurled, vast, and extending to infinity. Randall posed the possibility of an invisible universe only a small distance away in another dimension that might explain some current phenomena. The Klopsteg Award is given in memory of Paul Klopsteg, a principal founder and former president of AAPT. Recipients are chosen to give a major lecture at the AAPT Summer Meeting on a topic of current significance suitable for non-specialists.

At Tuesday’s award session, Steve Ethen, recipient of the Excellence in Pre-College Physics Teaching Award, discussed in his presentation, On the Shoulders of Giants, how his development as a physics teacher was influenced by his high school physics teacher, college physics professors, and colleagues in the PTRA program. Ethen currently teaches at Burnsville High School in Minnesota.

Michael A. Dubson, recipient of the Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching Award, described how teaching freshmen and sophomore physics at the University of Colorado has evolved in the last 10 years in Three or Four Golden Rules of Lecturing. The courses are now more engaging and have resulted in large learning gains as measured by various instruments developed by the PER community. The most important, or "Zeroth" Golden Rule of Lecture, is to reinvent nothing and to adapt and adopt successful techniques developed by others in the physics education community.

Three plenary sessions provided additional physics content for the meeting and highlighted the diversity of physics as a field of study. Plenary I, Nuclear Physics in the 21st Century: The Legacy of Hans Bethe, was co-sponsored by the AAPT Apparatus Committee and the APS Forum on Education. The session’s three speakers addressed current topics of interest in nuclear physics. In his talk, Frontiers in Nuclear Astrophysics, Hendrik Schatz, from Michigan State University, discussed the origin of heavy elements and the nuclear reactions that power stellar explosions. Extremely unstable nuclei that likely participate in the reactions creating the heavy elements are now being created in the laboratory, leading to a better understanding of the process involved. Timothy Hallman, of Brookhaven National Laboratory, described work currently being done to study objects at smaller scales in Making Quark-Gluon Soup at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). The results of head-on collisions at RHIC indicate that quarks and gluons co-existed in a hot primordial soup in the very early universe. In her talk, News and Views of the Proton, Elizabeth Beise, from the University of Maryland, described electron scattering experiments being conducted at the Thomas Jefferson Laboratory to determine the underlying structure of the proton.

In Plenary II, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, from the University of Oxford, described the physical properties of pulsars in her very entertaining talk, Pulsars and Extreme Physics. The first pulsar was discovered by Burnell and Antony Hewish in 1967, and had a period of 1.337 seconds. Pulsar densities are close to the density of nuclear matter, have magnetic fields on the order of 100 million Tesla, and rotational periods from milliseconds to seconds. According to Burnell, pulsar research continues to be an active field with startling and almost unbelievable results.

Daniel Kleppner, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented A Curiosity Cabinet of Gedanken Experiments in Plenary III. Gedanken experiments used by Einstein and others are intended to assist in the understanding of new physical principles, but are not meant to be actually carried out. Kleppner described several experiments in the Gedanken tradition that were carried out and have resulted in new physics.

Contests and Exhibits
The physics photo contest attracted a great deal of attention and many favorable comments. The 100 photos were displayed in the Schine Student Union, near the PIRA Resource Room and the Apparatus Competition. The winners of the video contest were also selected at the meeting.

Mary Winn coordinates the photo contest, and Trina Cannon coordinates the video contest, for AAPT. Prizes for this year’s photo contest were provided by Lexmark, who will also provide free CDs of the winning photos as an educational resource. The AAPT Committee on Apparatus conducted the annual apparatus competition. PASCO scientific provides the prizes for the apparatus competition.

More than 30 exhibitors displayed their products in the exhibit area, which was set up in the Sheraton Hotel. Exhibit space was limited due to construction that required the exhibit show to be moved from the student union to the hotel, and AAPT regrets that we were not able to accommodate everyone who wanted to exhibit or to provide the space some exhibitors may have wanted. The exhibit show, however, provided a central location for meeting colleagues and talking about physics during afternoon breaks. Special displays highlighting the 50th anniversary of PSSC and the 75th anniversary of AAPT located in rooms across from the exhibit area were also an attraction for many of the meeting attendees.

In Conclusion
More than 400 participants attended the annual picnic on Monday evening, which was followed by an outstanding demo show that had to be presented twice to accommodate the many people from the Syracuse community who wanted to attend. The demo show was organized by Sam Sampere from Syracuse University with the participation of many PIRA members from all over the country. Vernier Software and Technology hosted a reception on Tuesday evening to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Live music was provided by a band that featured Sam Sampere on the saxophone and the Syracuse University physics department chair Edward Lipson on bongos. Several other attendees joined in as well, and it was great to see a bunch of physicists dancing.

One of AAPT’s 75th anniversary activities is to fill a time capsule that will be opened on the occasion of AAPT’s 100th anniversary in 2031. Please send in any ideas that you might have for additional items that should be in the capsule. The capsule will be sealed at the Executive Board meeting on October 29, 2006. The 2007 Summer Meeting will be held from July 28 to August 1, 2007, at the University of North Caroline at Greensboro. The upcoming 2007 Winter Meeting will be a joint meeting with the American Astronomical Society, and will be held January 5-10, in Seattle, Washington. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Warren W. Hein
Associate Executive Officer