Priscilla Laws 1940-2023

December 12, 2023

Priscilla Laws, emerita professor of physics and George W. Pedlow chair of education, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA was a pioneer in developing and disseminating student-centered physics education and promoting quality physics learning through the world.

Born in 1940, she grew up in San Francisco, Calif. After graduating from Lowell High School, she received her bachelor of arts from Reed College in 1961. She went on to earn a master's and Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Bryn Mawr College, where she met her husband, Kenneth Laws, Dickinson professor emeritus of physics. Ken began at the college in 1962 and Priscilla in 1965. For more than 35 years the college was home to the “Laws of Physics.” They have two children, Kevin and Virginia, who is married to David Jackson, Dickinson professor of physics and astronomy.

Priscilla began focusing her efforts on the health effects of radiation which led to the publication of two consumer books on medical x-rays. Since 1986, she has dedicated herself to the development of activity-based curricular materials and computer software to enhance student learning in introductory physics courses. This work has resulted in the publication of curricular materials developed with members of the Activity-Based Physics Group and published by John Wiley & Sons. These include the Workshop Physics Activity Guide, Understanding Physics, and several RealTime Physics Laboratory Modules. She is also a co-author of Physics with Video Analysis, published by Vernier Software and Technology in 2009.

A member of AAPT since 1991, she received several national awards for educational innovations and software design. These include a Charles A. Dana award for Pioneering Achievement in Education (1994) and the Robert A. Millikan Medal for notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics from the American Association of Physics Teachers (1996) and the Homer L. Dodge Citation for Distinguished Service to AAPT (1992).

For the 75th anniversary of AAPT, she was voted by their members as one of the 75 most influential physics researchers or educators. While teaching and writing, she also was on several advisory panels at the National Science Foundation and was on the FIPSE Board of Directors for the Department of Education. She promoted ways to use physics research and education to enhance sustainable development in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Priscilla received the International Commission on Physics Education (ICPE) 2008 Medal in recognition of distinguished contributions to Physics Education with far reaching international impact. In 2010 she shared the American Physical Society’s Excellence in Physics Education award with David Sokoloff and Ronald Thornton for “For twenty-three years of national and international leadership in the design, testing, validation, and dissemination of research-based introductory physics curricula, computer tools and apparatus.” In 2014 she was recognized as part of the inaugural cohort of AAPT Fellows.

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David Wolfe

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