AAPT.org - American Association of Physics Teachers

Meeting Highlights

122nd National Meeting — San Diego, CA
Jan. 6-11, 2001

The AAPT Winter Meeting returned to the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center in San Diego for the 122nd National Meeting. The joint meeting with the 197th National Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) was the first joint Winter Meeting since AAPT stopped meeting with the American Physical Society in 1991. The rain that dampened the Summer Meeting in Guelph followed AAPT to San Diego and limited the use of the outdoor pools and other recreational facilities. However, most Southern Californians were pleased with the rain that relieved local drought conditions and reduced the fire hazard in the hills surrounding San Diego. Of course, some attendees thought the rainy weather could be blamed on the presence of astronomers who usually abhor rain and cloudy conditions.

More than 1,200 participants registered for the AAPT portion of the meeting, and another 2,200 registered as AAS participants, far exceeding the attendance that either society normally attracts to an annual meeting. Attendees were drawn by the excellent combined program that included opportunities to attend invited and contributed paper and poster sessions, actively engage in hands-on workshops and tutorials and four professional tours, and volunteer their services in support of both associations and the greater physics and astronomy communities. In addition to attending the physics and astronomy programs, attendees had sufficient time to visit with the more than 116 exhibitors and to meet with friends and colleagues in the pleasant atmosphere provided by the Town and Country Resort.

This year, AAPT again hosted a "First-Timers" program for those who were new to AAPT's meeting format. Experienced meeting attendees showed the 69 registered first-timers the ropes of an AAPT meeting.

AAPT Provides Structure for Advances in Physics Education

Much of the role of creating a strong meeting program and examining issues of importance to the physics community rests with the AAPT Area Committee chairs and their 17 Area Committees. Both the outgoing and incoming chairs from many of the committees met on the Saturday prior to the AAPT meeting. President-Elect John Hubisz and Vice President Chris Chiaverina reviewed and discussed the responsibilities of the Area Committee Chairs, much of which is outlined in the Area Chairs Handbook. Each of the Area Committees met one or more times during the week to plan programs, discuss policy issues and long-range planning, and formulate suggestions that could be taken back to the Council and Executive Board. In addition to the Area Committee meetings, there were more than 20 other meetings of the various standing and program-related AAPT committees.

The AAPT Section Representatives met on Sunday evening to revise the By-laws and to elect new officers as required by the revised Constitution recently approved by the AAPT membership. The AAPT Council, consisting of the Section Representatives and Executive Board, met on Monday evening to hear reports from the officers of the Association and to select future meeting sites for the Summer and Winter Meetings. The Council decided that the 2002 Summer Meeting be held at Boise State University, the 2003 Winter Meeting be held in Austin, Texas, and the 2003 Summer Meeting be held in Madison, Wis.

Workshops and Continuing Education Opportunities

Thirty-three AAPT workshops and one tutorial were offered during the two days prior to the paper presentations. Physics concepts taught using computer-related technologies such as the World Wide Web, modeling, simulation, and video capture, were featured in several of the workshops. Several of these workshops specifically addressed astronomy topics that attracted many AAS participants. These workshops were held off-site at the University of San Diego, San Diego State University, and the Joe Rindone Technology Center to reduce the cost associated with providing hands-on computer experiences. Fred Goldberg of San Diego State University, Greg Severn of the University of San Diego, and Dan Russell of the Rindone Technology Center deserve a special thank you for making these arrangements. Several workshops presented pedagogical techniques for engaging students and providing innovative opportunities to learn specific subject matter. Many of the lessons learned through physics education research (PER) were evident in the workshops. Several staff members from General Atomics, San Diego, conducted workshops that have not been available at previous AAPT meetings and received many favorable comments from the participants. An additional 20 commercial workshops rounded out the many educational opportunities for meeting participants.

The Paper Sessions

The AAPT portion of the meeting offered 65 invited papers, 210 contributed papers, five crackerbarrels, and 104 poster papers that were organized into 80 sessions over the four-day meeting. Approximately one-third of the AAPT and AAS poster papers were displayed in the exhibit hall from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. each day, Monday-Wednesday, and the authors were available to discuss the papers each morning between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., during which there were no competing sessions. The session-free exhibit hours and rotating poster sessions were very popular with AAPT participants and will be repeated at future meetings. A popular choice for many attendees was any session involving the use of the Web or computer applications in the classroom and laboratory. Well-attended sessions of a topical interest included sessions with titles like Amusement Park Physics Revisited; Teaching Astrobiology Concepts to Nonscience Majors; Integrated Physics - Lecture, Laboratory, Demonstration: Electricity and Magnetism; and Astronomy as a Tool for Public Outreach.

A number of sessions were devoted to pedagogical issues such as sessions entitled Enhancing Physics Lecture Beyond Newton's Laws with Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, PER Assessment, PER Technology, and PER Difficulties with Advanced Topics. Undergraduate students engaged in physics research were featured in four sessions of contributed papers organized by the Society of Physics Students (SPS). In addition, there were a number of career-oriented and science policy-related sessions, such as Independent Master's Degree Programs, Preparation of Pre-College Physics Teachers in the 21st Century, Preparation of Graduate Assistants as Future Faculty, Science Education for the Public, and Promoting the Success of Underrepresented Students in Physics.

Abstracts for the 122nd AAPT National Meeting (as well as the 1998, 1999, and 2000 AAPT Winter and Summer Meetings) are available online at http://www.aapt.org/AbstractSearch.

Awards and Plenary Sessions

The AAPT awards program provides a formal opportunity to recognize distinguished physicists and give them a chance to describe and promote their work. Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received the Richtmyer Award. Jackson's Richtmyer Memorial Lecture, Probabilistic Risk Assessment and Its Use in Nuclear Regulation, discussed how probabilistic risk assessment can be applied with traditional engineering analysis in the design of nuclear reactors to enhance their safety and efficiency. Lillian C. McDermott, University of Washington, was awarded the Oersted Medal, AAPT's most distinguished award. In her lecture entitled Research - The Key to Student Learning, McDermott discussed how systematic research that focuses on student understanding can greatly increase the likelihood that an instruction innovation will be effective beyond a particular instructor or institutional setting. McDermott shared examples from the pioneering work that she is doing with her Physics Education Group at the University of Washington.

Five members of the association were selected for Distinguished Service Citations. The recipients were selected for their many contributions over an extended period of time to the American Association of Physics Teachers and to the teaching profession. Recipients of the 2001 Distinguished Service Citations were as follows: Clarence Bakken, Henry M. Gunn High School, Palo Alto, Calif.; Richard Berg, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; Jack Hehn, American Institute of Physics, College Park, Md.; Evelyn Patterson, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Richard Reimann, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.

In her presidential address, Ruth Howes highlighted several new AAPT initiatives and the long-range planning process begun during the past year. Howes emphasized the critical role that AAPT members, especially the younger members, play in the overall success of the organization.

Gary White, SPS Council President, presented Steve Feller from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with the Outstanding SPS Chapter Advisor Award. The American Institute of Physics presents this award annually at the AAPT Winter Meeting to a faculty member who has excelled in the role of SPS advisor.

Two high school teachers received High School Innovation Grants that were awarded by the Committee on Physics in High Schools. Cathy Ezrailson from the Academy of Science and Health Professions in Conroe, Texas, received $500 for the project Optical Recognition Palm Pilot. William Reitz from Hoover High School, North Canton, Ohio, received $500 for the project Body Sense - Understanding the Human Body in Motion.

Six excellent plenary sessions, three sponsored by AAS, highlighted the diverse nature of physics and astronomy. Frank H. Shu, University of California, Berkeley, discussed the puzzle of the existence of chondritic meteorites in his Heineman Prize Lecture entitled What Do Meteorites Tell Us About the Formation of the Solar System? Shu reviewed a new theory developed by his group that suggests the chondrules originated much closer to the protosun and presented evidence to support the assumptions and conclusions of the theory. Heather Morrison, Case Western Reserve University, discussed the shift in view of how the Galaxy's halo formed in her talk, Star Streams in the Milky Way - Fragments of Its History. Morrison shared results of recent studies that provide indisputable evidence that our Galaxy's halo is accreting stars and clusters today. Data from recent surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey will be used in conjunction with theoretical models to model the early formation of the Milky Way. Alexei V. Filippenko, University of California, Berkeley, discussed how the spectra of Type Ia supernovae are being used to determine the Einstein "cosmological constant" (Lambda) in his talk, Einstein's Biggest Blunder? The Case for an Accelerating Universe. The most important conclusion from the work of Filippenko's group is that Lambda is not zero, and the current best value for the dynamical age of the universe is 14 +/- 2 billion years, consistent with the ages of globular star clusters.

Two plenary sessions were sponsored by AAPT. Robert Greenler, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, shared the problems and pleasures of working at the U.S. Antarctic Research Station in his talk, Sunlight and Ice Crystals in the Skies of Antarctica. Greenler is well-known for his research and writings on atmospheric optical phenomena, and he demonstrated the origin of a number of these phenomena for those in attendance. Philip M. Sadler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, shared the results of the research his group has done on the impact of studying physics in high school in his talk, Preparing Students for Success in College Physics: Which High Schools Make the Grade? According to Sadler, the average high school physics course has only a modest impact on college physics grades, but certain kinds of courses do have a large impact, lending credence to recent educational research. Pedagogy, content, textbooks, misconception research, and demographics all play a role in unraveling which kinds of high school courses are best and how teachers and college professors can benefit from this knowledge.

AAS and AAPT jointly sponsored a plenary session, a public policy session, and the Wednesday evening banquet speaker. Dennis R. Danielson, University of British Columbia, discussed an alternative interpretation of Copernicanism from that usually given in school science texts in his plenary talk The Great Copernican Cliché. The usually accepted interpretation is that the geocentric view of Ptolemy had mankind in an elevated position at the center of the universe from which Copernican theory dethroned him. According to Danielson, Ptolemy's cosmology relegated the earth and humankind to the lowest position in the universe, whereas Copernicanism elevated humankind to a position among the stars and other heavenly bodies. Danielson, a professor of English, quoted the writings of many early scholars to support his view of Copernican cosmology. Daniel Goldin, NASA Administrator, discussed future space and astronomy research programs in his public policy address, A View from the Threshold: NASA's Vision and the People Who Will Make it Possible. Goldin shared his vision of the next generation of Earth and space-based observatories and other NASA missions that may become reality over the next 25 years. K.C. Cole, science writer for the Los Angeles Times, shared her view of the value of scientific discoveries in her banquet talk, The Sentimental Fruits of Science. According to Cole, editors, scientists, and science teachers worry too much about the practical fruits of studying science and scientific discoveries. Cole claims society needs to acknowledge that science is primarily a sentimental journey driven by passion and aesthetics, and its fruits are emotional and philosophical, as well as technical.


If you wanted to see excitement, curiosity, and enthusiasm, you needed only to visit the SEES session. AAPT again hosted the SEES (Students to Experience Engineering and Science) program for approximately 60 seventh grade students from the Preuss School, which is located on the campus of the University of California at San Diego. The Preuss School is a charter school in its second year of operation. These students and teachers came to the Town and Country Resort and were engaged in demonstrations and hands-on science projects organized by program coordinators Betty Preece and Willa Ramsay. AAPT members Elizabeth Chesick, Gary White, and Roger Boyce engaged the students in hands-on activities. Laura Meldrum and Karen May-Newman from the San Diego County Section of the Society of Women Engineers presented an additional activity. This is the ninth year that AAPT has hosted this program at its Winter Meeting. Special thanks to the Committees on Women in Physics and Minorities in Physics who helped make this event a success.

Exhibit Show and Job Center

In addition to the program activities, 44 AAPT exhibitors displayed apparatus, books, software, and other materials that can be used in the teaching of physics and astronomy. In addition, 72 AAS exhibitors displayed products and information of interest to the astronomy researchers attending the AAS portion of the meeting. The Exhibit Hall was open from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily, and it was a good place to meet friends between paper sessions or view the almost 200 poster papers that were changed each day. Each of the AAPT exhibitors was invited to submit an entry to the best new product contest, and every AAPT registrant was allowed to cast their vote for the best entry. PASCO scientific won the trophy for best new product for its new PASCar.

The AAS and AAPT Job Centers provided an additional attraction to the Exhibit Hall. There were 98 positions advertised in the AAPT portion of the Job Center, and 28 schools interviewed candidates at the meeting. Many interviewers indicated that they were able to identify qualified candidates for the positions they advertised. Almost 60 candidates submitted resumes for review by employers, and many more came to peruse job announcements. High schools, two-year colleges, and four-year institutions were all well represented at the Job Center. AAPT plans to offer the Job Center at the 2002 Winter Meeting as a service to the membership. Some of the position announcements continue to be available online through the Science Job Market.

In Conclusion

The 122nd AAPT National Meeting - Joint with AAS was a very successful event by all measures, and both AAS and AAPT are considering the possibility of another joint meeting in the future. The Town and Country Resort is an excellent facility for a meeting of this size, and the staff was very friendly and accommodating. The 123rd AAPT National Meeting will be held July 21-25 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center in Rochester, N.Y. The call for papers, list of workshops, housing information, and registration forms are available online.

Warren W. Hein, Associate Executive Officer (whein@aapt.org)