2006 Winter Meeting Highlights

AAPT 2006 Winter Meeting — Anchorage, Alaska
Jan. 21-25, 2006

The 2006 Winter Meeting was held in Anchorage, Alaska, January 21–25, 2006. The meeting served as the “kick-off” event commemorating AAPT’s 75th anniversary, which, incidentally, will be a major focus of the 2006 Summer Meeting in Syracuse, New York. Approximately 600 participants braved a long plane ride and cold temperatures to attend. The temperature rarely rose above 10°F; nonetheless, many attendees enjoyed the beautiful scenery and even participated in some winter activities, including dogsled rides, cross-country skiing, as well as automobile and airplane tours of the incredibly scenic mountains bordering Anchorage. Due to fewer paper sessions, attendees had more time to meet informally with colleagues and friends, whether in the pleasant surroundings of the Egan Conference Center or at one of the many nearby restaurants. Many also volunteered their services in support of AAPT and the greater physics community by serving as section representatives or participating on one of the association’s many committees.

AAPT Provides Structure for Advances in Physics Education
Much of creating a strong meeting program and examining issues of importance to the physic community rests with AAPT’s 18 area committees. The outgoing and incoming committee chairs met on the Saturday prior to the national meeting. President-Elect Ken Heller and Vice President Harvey Leff discussed the committee chairs’ responsibilities (also outlined in the Area Chairs Handbook available online at www.aapt.org/aboutaapt/handbook.cfm). Each area committee met once or twice during the meeting to plan programs, discuss policy issues, conduct long-range planning, and formulate suggestions for the Council and Executive Board. In addition to the area committee meetings, there were more than 20 meetings of the various standing and program-related AAPT committees.

The section representatives met on Sunday evening to elect new officers and to discuss the general membership and other issues of concern. The AAPT Council, which is composed of section representatives and Executive Board, met on Monday evening to hear reports from AAPT officers and to recognize retiring Executive Board members Jim Nelson and Chuck Stone. Furthermore, the Council selected the University of Alberta, Edmonton, in Canada, as the host site for the 2008 Summer Meeting. The Council also voted to hold a joint meeting with the AAAS in Chicago during February 2009, pending approval of AAAS’s governing board.

Workshops and Continuing Education Opportunities
Approximately 270 participants registered for the 15 workshops and five tutorials that occurred two days before the paper presentations. Several workshops presented pedagogical techniques for engaging students and providing innovative opportunities to learn specific subject matter. Among the offerings were: “A Den of Inquiry: Real Data Analysis for Introductory Physics”; “Analysis of Supernova Remnants”; “Photographing the Night Sky”; “Radiation, Black Holes, and Gravitational Waves: Studying the Early Universe with LISA”; “Franklin and Electrostatics”; and “Simulation Environments for Introductory Astronomy.”

Many of the lessons garnered from Physics Education Research (PER) were evident in some of the workshops, including “Using Case Studies to Teach Physics,” “ClassAction: Interactive Classroom Materials for Introductory Astronomy,” “Preparing Pre-College Teachers to Teach Physics by Inquiry,” “Physics for Elementary Teachers: A New Curriculum,” “Tutorials in Introductory Physics,” and “TIPERS (Tasks Inspired by Physics Education Research).” An additional seven commercial workshops rounded out the many educational opportunities that were available to participants.

The Paper Sessions
The national meeting featured 62 invited papers, 111 contributed papers, 40 poster papers, and three crackerbarrels compiled into 29 sessions over a three-day period. The poster papers were on display in the exhibit hall on Monday and Tuesday, and the authors were on hand Monday between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. to discuss their papers. On Sunday, before the opening of the Exhibit Show, a student poster session was held during the reception hosted by the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and AAPT.

“Physics in Alaska” served as a theme for a number of well-attended sessions, such as “Hot Topics in Alaska,” “Lessons from the Good Friday Earthquake,” “Contributions of Women in Physics in Alaska,” “Hot Topics in Physics: The Physics of Global Warming,” and “Physics and Geophysics in Alaska.” Another well-attended session was “Life After Retirement,” featuring invited talks by Richard Jacob, Edwin Taylor, Ken Ford, and Norman Chonacky. Sessions exploring the uses of technology in the classroom included “Distance Learning and the Impact of the WWW,” “Best Practices in Teaching with Technology,” and “Connecting Physics to Emerging Technologies in the Introductory Course.” Several sessions featured the international nature of physics: “Physics Teaching Around the World” and “Physics Education in Africa.”

Sessions devoted to pedagogical issues included “Attitudes and Beliefs,” “Physics Education Research,” “Assessment and Research Instruments,” “Astronomy Education Research,” and “Thawing the Frozen Curriculum.” Undergraduate students engaged in outreach and physics research was the focus of contributed papers organized by SPS. The physics education community’s increased interest in the preparation of future teachers was examined in “Reducing Teacher Isolation: Induction and Mentoring” and “Topics in Pre-College Physics Teaching.”

Abstracts from the 2006 Winter Meeting (as well as abstracts from national meetings covering 1998–2005) are available online in a searchable database at www.aapt.org/AbstractSearch/.

Award and Plenary Sessions
Departing from what has been common practice at previous winter meetings, the ceremonial session immediately followed the Awards Banquet, which was attended by 140 people. The awards program provides an opportunity to formally recognize distinguished physicists by giving them a chance to describe their work. As the Richtmyer Award recipient, Neil Ashby from the University of Colorado-Boulder delivered the 2006 Richtmyer Memorial Lecture, entitled “Practical Relativity,” in which he discussed the need to include special and general relativity effects in implementing the Global Positioning System, thus providing testable evidence of these theories. The Richtmyer Award is given in memory of Floyd K. Richtmyer. Recipients are asked to give an address on a topic of current significance suitable for non-specialists.

Kenneth Ford, retired CEO of the American Institute of Physics, is the 2006 recipient of the Oersted Medal. In his talk “Love Them to Death,” Ford recounted his teaching odyssey, which encompasses seventh graders to graduate students. Ford suggested that a real affection for students of all levels goes a long way toward ensuring teaching success. Ford feels strongly that physicists need to overcome their priesthood syndrome and that teaching physics to ninth graders (PhysicsFirst) makes good sense. The Oersted Award, AAPT’s most prestigious award, recognizes notable contributions to the teaching of physics.

Five AAPT members received Distinguished Service Citations. They were selected based on their many contributions over an extended period of time to the association in particular and to the teaching profession in general. The recipients of the 2006 Distinguished Service Citations include: Mario Belloni (Davidson College), Steve Iona (Univ. of Denver), Zigmund Peacock (Univ. of Utah), Gregory Puskar (West Virginia Univ.), and Frieda Stahl (California State Univ., Los Angeles). The citation to each award will be published in the April 2006 issue of The Physics Teacher.

Earl Blodgett, SPS Council president, presented David Brown of the University of Louisville with the Outstanding SPS Chapter Advisor Award. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) presents this award annually at the AAPT winter meeting to faculty members who have excelled in the role of SPS advisor.

In his Retiring President Address, Dick Peterson invoked the “curse of Lake Woebegon” in a tongue-in-cheek review of his presidential year in which 30 percent of the Executive Board underwent major surgery. Peterson highlighted the many positive AAPT activities of his 12 months as AAPT president, including the establishment of AAPT’s first topical group (PERTG), the co-sponsoring of the “open access” online journal Physical Review Special Topics: PER, the hiring of Charlie Holbrow as Senior Staff Physicist, NSF funding for ComPADRE, and establishment of an Advanced Laboratory Task Force. Under Peterson’s leadership, the Board began preparing for a strategic planning retreat of AAPT leaders in June 2006, with the assistance of Past-President Karen Johnston. 

Three excellent plenary sessions contributed to the physics and cultural content of the meeting. Nadya Mason from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provided an overview of the dynamic field of nanotechnology in “Over the Moon with Carbon Nanotubes.” Mason described how these nanotubes are synthesized and their amazing mechanical and electrical properties. Potential applications of this technology range from quantum computers to a nanotube-based space elevator.

Hans Christian von Baeyer, College of William and Mary, delivered AIP’s Gemant Award Lecture entitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Schrodinger’s Cat.” According to von Baeyer, making sense of the counterintuitive rules of quantum mechanics can be accomplished by introducing information theory into the study of quantum mechanics. AIP’s annual Andrew Gamant Award recognizes persons who have made significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics.

In his fast-paced talk “A Tale of Two Universes,” Paul Steinhardt, of Princeton University, discussed two divergent views of cosmic history—the currently accepted cosmological model of an eternal expanding and accelerating universe and the revived model of a cyclic universe that evolves from big bang to big crunch once every trillion years. Problems with earlier cyclic models related to entropy have been finessed using new ideas resulting from string theory. Future measurements may distinguish between the divergent views of cosmic history.

In Conclusion
In addition to the program activities, 35 exhibitors displayed their apparatus, books, software, and other materials used in the teaching of physics and astronomy. The exhibit hall was open Sunday, 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., Monday 8:00 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m., and Tuesday 8:00 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

The exhibit hall was a good place to meet friends between paper sessions or view the poster papers. Refreshments were provided during session breaks to encourage attendees to visit the exhibits and posters. Mary Creason won a contest by correctly guessing the weight of a piece of glacier ice after it had been allowed to melt for one and a half days. The Multicultural Luncheon featuring a talk by musher DeeDee Jonrowe attracted 120 participants. Jonrowe has both the fastest time of any woman in the history of the Iditarod as well as 13 top-10 finishes in her career.

The 2006 Summer Meeting will be held July 22–26 at Syracuse University. The call for papers, list of workshops, housing information, registration forms, and the most recent information about the 2006 Summer Meeting and all of AAPT’s activities are available on the AAPT website at www.aapt.org.

Warren W. Hein, Associate Executive Officer