Retiring President's Address - 2005

Jim Nelson
Announcer, Vol. 35, Iss. 1

My first "President’s Report" appeared in the spring 2004 issue of the Announcer. In it I suggested that AAPT members take one hour each month to share their excitement of physics with a local pre-college school.

During this World Year of Physics we all have the opportunity—perhaps a responsibility—to highlight the subject we love. I will be thinking of ways to talk with friends and neighbors, as well as my students, about the World Year of Physics.

Current events often provide a vehicle for talking about physics. For example, I recently read an article about the problem of adding armor plating to the Humvees used in Iraq to better protect soldiers from gunfire and bomb attacks. The problem is, of course, the heavier the vehicle, the smaller the acceleration, which makes the vehicle dangerous in another sense. Thus, the armor-plated Humvees require a more powerful motor to compensate for the added mass. This story provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the concept of power and the value of understanding Newton’s Second Law.

The recent tsunami disaster in Asia is another topic for physics consideration. As the waves moved into shallow water the increase in friction slowed the leading edge of the wave while the trailing edge, still in deep water, moved toward the shore with the original speed, causing the wavelength to decrease. Because the water had to go somewhere, the amplitude of the wave increased, resulting in a very powerful tidal wave.

The multiplicity of topics such as these of which physics can help explain is revealed each month in Physics Today. I hang the last 12 Physics Today covers in a conspicuous spot in my classroom; I also read a few sentences from each month’s lead article to my students so that they will develop a sense of how physics plays a role in everything from art to zero gravity. Each month when I retire a cover from the bulletin board and replace it with the latest cover, it remains close at hand.

Physics Teaching Is Healthy

In that first report, I also wrote that in order for physics education to be healthy it must serve all teaching levels, from elementary to post-graduate school.

We have talked a lot during the last couple of years about Physics for All. In fact, most elementary school students today learn some physics concepts. Marianne Dyson’s book, Home on the Moon, eloquently states the important role elementary education plays in physics education. The number of students taking physics in high school is making a slow but steady increase, and in the future we will have more students who are better prepared to enter our nation’s outstanding graduate school system. So, the question I must ask is who influenced you to study physics?

Each of us stands on a rung of the educational ladder, where we extended our hand to a physics student on the lower rung and gave him or her a boost to a higher rung.

When my students leave my classroom in the spring, for the last time, my greatest goal is for them to leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation of physics.

As the physics education research being conducted by AAPT members becomes widely available, we will have a treasure trove of techniques that help students at all levels learn physics. Accordingly, physics teaching is indeed healthy.

AAPT Is Healthy

AAPT members are interested in all areas of research and all levels of teaching. In addition, AAPT sports an impressive number of international members. This rich complexity is reflected in the broad range of AAPT area committees and AAPT national and special topic meetings.

Under the leadership of Bernard V. Khoury, AAPT has reached its financial goal of a reserve fund equal to a year’s operational budget. At present this amounts to nominally $5 million. Such financial strength can provide AAPT with the resources to address issues important to its members.

Also, AAPT has sold the Dodge building, and has established a $250,000 fund in honor of AAPT’s first president, Homer L. Dodge, and his family, whose financial support made the purchase of the building possible.

In addition, AIP recently completed a job market study for AAPT, and, as a result, compensation for AAPT employees is more in line with the market value of their duties and responsibilities.

AAPT is involved in several successful national grant programs, including:

• Pre-Service Teacher Development (PhysTEC),;

• In-Service Teacher Development (PTRA),;

• Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two-Year Colleges (SpinUP-TYC),;

• Resources for Physics and Astronomy Education (comPADRE),;

as well as a variety of university workshops from new faculty to department chairs.

AAPT has accomplished its initiative to help AAPT members involved in physics education research organize and manage their activities and expand their publishing venues. Yes, AAPT is truly healthy.

But even when you’re healthy, it’s still good to have an annual checkup. We have several opportunities to improve the health of AAPT. To name just a few: we could review and, perhaps, change the time and the content of the national meetings to better reflect the variety and interests of AAPT’s membership; we could also extend our mission by working with organizations that complement our interest in physics and teaching.

So, as I pass the gavel to Dick Peterson, let me say what an honor and a privilege it has been to serve as AAPT President. I am indebted to more individuals than I can mention for their support and encouragement. Thank you all.