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Lillian Christie McDermott, 2013 Melba Newell Phillips AwardeeLillian Christie McDermott Recognized with AAPT’s 2013 Melba Newell Phillips Medal


College Park, Maryland, United States, February 26, 2013—The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) announced today that the Melba Newell Phillips Medal has been awarded to Lillian C. McDermott, Ph.D., Professor of Physics at the University of Washington, in recognition of her creative leadership and dedicated service that have resulted in exceptional contributions within AAPT.

The Medal will be presented during a Ceremonial Session of the AAPT 2013 Summer Meeting in Portland, Oregon.

A long-time AAPT member, McDermott’s foundational work in physics education research has strengthened the association’s programs and benefited the overall physics education community. Her service began with a commitment to improve physics education for future elementary school teachers and later included high school teachers as well.  The establishment and growth of the University of Washington Physics Education Group, the longest-lived U.S. teacher education program based in a university physics department, is just one of the many significant achievements resulting from her commitment to physics education. Her graduate students have gone on to prominence in AAPT and in faculty positions across the country.

On being recognized with this award, Lillian McDermott said:

"I am greatly honored to have my name become associated with Melba Phillips in this way. She was a great role model for women in physics. I first met her at an AAPT meeting many years ago. I was impressed then and still am by her accomplishments in research and teaching, her political courage, and her service to the physics academic community. On a more personal level, although I barely knew her, I remember that she did not appear to be too busy to spend a few moments talking to a new member of AAPT."

McDermott received her Ph.D. in experimental nuclear physics from Columbia University in 1959.  After teaching at City College of New York, Seattle University, and the University of Washington, she collaborated with Arnold Arons who had come to the University of Washington to establish a program in the Department of Physics for the preparation of precollege teachers.  Her systematic research on learning difficulties was the genesis of a new field of scholarly inquiry for physicists: Physics Education Research (PER). In 1973 she began a new program in which graduate students earn doctorates in physics for research on the learning and teaching of physics. Since that time she has directed the Physics Education Group, widely known today for its leadership role in physics education research and in the preparation of (K–12) teachers.

Under McDermott’s guidance, the University of Washington Physics Education Group has served as a model for discipline-specific educational research and curriculum development, and produced numerous trailblazing articles. Similar physics education research Ph.D. programs have been set up at several other universities in the U.S.

As the first chairperson of the AAPT Research in Physics Education Committee, McDermott organized the first invited session at AAPT on PER back in the early 1980s, and over the years has planned many high-quality and very well received invited sessions. Her reputation in the field introduced many international researchers in the field to the AAPT and its conferences.

The UW Physics Education Group has developed two widely distributed sets of instructional materials, Physics by Inquiry and Tutorials in Introductory Physics. The latter are intended to supplement the lectures and labs in university physics courses. She is a regular presenter in the New Physics and Astronomy Faculty Workshops hosted by AAPT, AAS and APS. Research in physics education and its application to instruction have been her dedicated professional interest for four decades. Her list of publications, accomplishments, and awards are second to none in the field.

About the Award
The Melba Newell Phillips Medal honors Phillips for her leadership and dedicated service to physics education. The first woman president of the AAPT and a founder of the Federation of American Scientists, Phillips’ research was in nuclear physics.  She served on the faculty of Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago and was a champion of physics education throughout her life. This Award is given only occasionally to subsequent AAPT leaders who display similar achievements and exceptional contributions. The first recipient of the Award was Melba Phillips herself (Emeritus, University of Chicago), in January 1982.

The previous award recipients include Judy R. Franz, E. Leonard Jossem, Clifford Swartz, Albert A. Bartlett, Anthony P. French, John W. Layman, and Mary Beth Monroe.
The complete list of awardees can be found at http://www.aapt.org/Programs/awards/phillips.cfm

About AAPT
AAPT is an international organization for physics educators, physicists, and industrial scientists—with members worldwide. Dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching, AAPT provides awards, publications, and programs that encourage practical application of physics principles, support continuing professional development, and reward excellence in physics education. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.

For more information: Contact Marilyn Gardner, Director of Communications, mgardner@aapt.org, (301)209-3306, (301)209-0845 (Fax), www.aapt.org.