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Issues of Equity in Physics Access and Enrollment August 6, 2015

Posted by PER Section Chair in : History, Policy and Education (HPE), Physics Education Research (PER) , add a comment

High school physics is a gateway course for post-secondary study in science, medicine, and engineering, as well as an essential component in the formation of students’ scientific literacy.  Yet, despite reports to the contrary, the availability of physics as a course for high school students is not equitably distributed throughout the United States.

While some schools provide physics for all who wish to take it, a more common scenario is limited availability. This is particularly true in urban districts, where physics is not universally available in secondary school.  The existence of policies that restrict science opportunities for secondary students results in diminished outcomes in terms of scientific proficiency.

Recently researchers at Columbia University examined the 316 secondary schools in the New York City Public School system to identify factors related to availability of physics courses.  New York City’s (population 8.1 million) public schools system  is the largest school district in the United States, with approximately 300,000 secondary school students (15.1% White, 33.6% Black, 38.2% Hispanic, 13.0% Asian).

Overall Enrollment

Overall, physics enrollment in the 298 responding surveyed schools totals 14,935 (5.2%) out of 286,862 students. This corresponds to approximately 21% of students graduating having studied physics, which is lower than the state and national average of 31% for public schools. Analysis of the availability of physics in schools shows that access to physics is not equitably distributed – a remarkable 55% (164 of 298) of the surveyed New York City high schools simply do not offer physics as a subject. This translates to approximately 23% of the city student population not having access to any physics course in high school.

Where is Physics Available?

School size strongly influences whether physics is available. The vast majority of large high schools offer physics as a course, while fewer than half of mid-sized schools and only a quarter of the small schools do. Eliminating schools that only have grades 9 or 10 (and thus may offer physics in future years), still only 39% of small schools offer physics. Although small schools present a promising option in many respects, the question of access to advanced science courses needs to be addressed. Student graduation rates are likely to increase, but the city may actually graduate fewer physics students than they do today.

New York State leads the nation in Advanced Placement participation, with 23% of its high school graduates earning a passing score on at least one exam before graduation (the national average is 14%). Despite this prominence, AP Physics is a rarity in New York City’s public high schools, offered in only 20 (6.7%) of the surveyed schools, including all of the magnet schools.

Correlations to Race and Socioeconomic Status

The racial composition of students in schools that do not offer physics is notably different from the city as a whole, with White and Asian students much less likely to be found in these schools.Schools that offer AP Physics also show a much higher percentage representation of Asian and White students.Schools that do offer physics typically have a racial composition of 36% Black, 36% Hispanic, 15% White, and 13% Asian; schools that do not offer physics have 45% Black, 46% Hispanic, 5% White, and 5% Asian.These disparities illustrate large racial inequities in access to physics.

Socioeconomic status, measured by percent eligible for free lunch, displays a similar relationship, with poorer students having restricted access to schools that provide physics as a science option.The average percentage of students who qualified for free lunch in New York City was 69% during 2004-2005; compared with 77.7% at non-physics schools and 53.3% at schools that offer physics.

Both race and socioeconomic status are inherent factors in determining the likelihood that students have access to Advanced Placement physics in NYC. Only 33.5% of students in schools offering AP Physics are eligible for free lunch. The racial breakdown of students showed similar disparities. The percentage of White and Asian students is nearly triple the citywide average in schools that offer AP Physics, while the percentage of underrepresented minorities is 38% lower than the citywide average.Further illustrating this point, the Bronx, the poorest borough in New York City with the largest population of underrepresented minorities, has only two high schools that offer AP Physics (one is a highly selective science magnet school).

Often, students’ addresses, race, or socioeconomic status are major determining factors in whether they have the opportunity to study secondary physics at any level. This inequity in access to physics needs to be addressed in a comprehensive plan to improve science education for students in urban locales if the goal of “science for all” is to be attained. Major changes are required in schools’ structuring of physics course offerings; additionally, keeping an eye on racial and socioeconomic balance is essential in providing socially just opportunities in the study of physics. The evidence presented here is a starting point for identifying the extent of inequities in order to develop long-term reform efforts to improve physics access.

Policy Recommendations

NSBP calls for the following policies to increase access to K-12 physics courses for all students.

  1. States and the NCAA, which collects high school course data, should improve their databases of what schools are offering physics courses.  Each State should have a verifiable system of course offerings and student outcomes.
  2. In the No Child Left Behind Act or its successor, Congress should emphasize opportunity to learn and adequate funding.
  3. Congress, the States, STEM and teacher professional organizations should have mechanisms for meaningful science education standards for all K-12 schools and students.

For more information on the New York City schools study contact
Angela M. Kelly, Ph.D.
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Center for Science & Mathematics Education (CESAME)
CESAME: 094 Life Sciences Building | 631.632.7075 (office)
PHYSICS: A-141B Physics Building | 631.632.8168 (office)
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-5233
www.stonybrook.edu/cesame

In Memoriam: Edmund C. Zingu April 26, 2013

Posted by International.Chair in : Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Physics Education Research (PER), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , 2comments

Zingu
Professor Edmund Zingu served on the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP) Council from 1999 to 2006, and was President of the SAIP from 2003 to 2004.  He was in fact the first black President in the history of the SAIP[1].

He played crucial leadership roles in many projects, particularly in physics related development issues.  He was Vice President of the IUPAP, and Chair of the C13 Commission on Physics for Development.  He was primarily responsible for bringing to South Africa the iconic ‘Physics for Sustainable Development’ conference in 2005[2] as a part of the International Year of Physics.  This conference cast a distinct spotlight on physics as an instrument for development in Africa.

We would like to specifically mention his tremendous contribution to two extremely important projects of the Institute.  The first was the highly successful Shaping the Future of Physics, where he contributed to the design of the project and also served as chair of the Management and Policy Committee that oversaw the international review in 2003.

The Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa report was written by a body designated as the ‘International Panel’ or IP.  The IP was composed of M. A. Hellberg (convenor), M. Ducloy, K. Bharuth-Ram, K. Evans-Lutterodt, I. Gledhill, G. X. Tessema, A.W. Wolfendale, and S. J Gates.  The report has served exceedingly well as a national strategy and planning document for the South African physics community in a manner that none of its authors had foreseen in terms of its scope, duration or effectiveness.

Dr. Zingu’s management of the entire Shaping process was a marvelous testament of his dedication to the health of the physics field in South Africa.  His skills as a manager of personnel were on direct display in the assembly of the IP.  He advocated for selection of representatives from South Africa (Bharuth-Ram, Gledhill, and Hellberg), from Europe (Ducloy, and Wolfendale), and the USA (Evans-Lutterodt, Gates, and Tessema) as a reflection of his understanding of the global nature of the interactions required for physics to thrive in South Africa in the new millennium.  He also saw to it that the IP was assembled in such a way as to be a final executive part of the process that lived up to his high expectation and vision.

The Shaping Report is among the greatest of tributes to Dr. Zingu as it continues almost a decade later to have a substantial impact on thinking about South African physics.  The report challenged all of the stake-holding communities to plan on multiple levels.  Projects like the projects like the SAIP Executive Office, National Institute for Theoretical Physics (NiTheP), South African National Research Network (SANReN), SA-CERN, and SKA-Africa have become a reality.  The report called also for the possibility of other ‘flagship’ projects such as a South African synchrotron, to drive the large scale development of the field, and there has been significant encouraging progress here.  At the more granular level there was a call for transformation so that the field would be open to all citizens of the country.  Physics in South Africa has grown significantly since then, largely because of the implementation of many of the recommendations from the Review.  Also during this time Dr. Zingu authored the very influential article, Promoting Physics and Development in Africa, which appeared in Physics Today[3].

For one of us (Gates), the Shaping Report was preparation for service as a policy advisor for both the Governor of Maryland (via my role on the Maryland State Board of Education) and for President Barack Obama (via my role on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology – PCAST).  These accomplishments are due in part to Edmund’s confidence in me and his abilities as a mentor.  I owe this great South African an enormous debt of gratitude for how he challenged me to grow professionally.

The second project was the Review of Undergraduate Physics Education.  Once again he contributed to the design of the Review and chaired the Management and Policy Committee.  He led the development of the South Africa Draft Benchmark Statement for Physics Training, and guided the Review process, including the partnership with the Council for Higher Education.  The Review of Physics Training is well advanced but still in progress.

Professor Zingu began his physics career at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).  He was a materials physicist, and with his collaborators at Cornell University invented a new method to study atomic diffusion by transmission electron microscopy[4].  Later he studied diffusion phase transitions in thin films due to induced thermal stress[5].  He had a period of employment at Turfloop, QwaQwa Campus, then as Head of the Physics Department and later Dean of Basic Sciences (1990-1993) at MEDUNSA.  He later returned to UWC and served as Head of the Physics Department (1994-1998), and finally Vice Rector of Mangosuthu University of Technology in Umlazi, Durban until the time of his retirement.

Edmund was a pioneer for physics in post-apartheid South Africa, a visionary, a tireless campaigner for strengthening the discipline of physics* and, above all, a true gentleman.  His leadership and contributions were characterized by sensitivity, perceptiveness, vision, ethics, wisdom, global standards and great industry.  He will be sorely missed.

Simon Connell
President, South African Institute of Physics (2012-2014)

Nithaya Chetty
President, South African Institute of Physics (2007-2009)

S. James Gates, Jr.
President, National Society of Black Physicists (1996-1998)

More comments from Dr. Zingu’s friends and colleagues

Professor Zingu was a dear friend and professional colleague over the past ten years.  He was extremely helpful during the deliberations of the 2004 Review of iThemba LABS that I chaired for the National Research Foundation.  During that time, Professor Zingu was President of the South African Institute of Physics.  In another effort, he was one of the main drivers in working with Professor Alfred Msezane of Clark Atlanta University and a number of us at the African Laser Centre to organize the 1st US-Africa Advanced Studies Institute on Photon Interactions with Atoms and Molecules.  That institute convened in Durban during November 2005, just after the World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development, which was part of the United Nation’s International Year of Physics.  Professor Zingu leaves a tremendous legacy for all African and other peoples to emulate.  We will miss his kind demeanor and tremendous insights into the future.
Sekazi K. Mtingwa

I met Prof. Edmund Zingu nearly 20-years ago in November 1995 at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, where he was Chair of the Physics Department. Edmund invited me on my first travel to South Africa for nearly two-weeks to  lecture on Ultrafast Optical Phenomena at several institutions — U. of Port Elizabeth, the National Accelerator Centre, U. of Cape Town, U. of Witwatersrand, U. of the Western Cape and the Foundation for Research Development (analog of the US National Science Foundation). This was the first and only time that I spent time away from my family during Thanksgiving, and Edmund provided a warm and inviting environment for my visit. I spent several days with Edmund’s wonderful family and learned a great deal about South Africa and its people. Arriving not long after the release of Nelson Mandela and the official end of Apartheid, Edmund with his gentle, soft-spoken and brilliant nature alleviated my natural apprehension of visiting South Africa at that time. I had a truly wonderful visit and scientific exchange orchestrated by Prof. Edmund Zingu and I am truly saddened by the loss of this extraordinary individual — my deepest condolences go out to his family.
Anthony M. Johnson

Two weeks ago, at a diaspora gathering for STEM in Africa, the challenge that African scientists face on the continent was discussed. The critical question was “How can academics in Africa get the attention of the leaders?”  The idea of international advisory panels modeled after the 2004 Shaping panel was received with much enthusiasm. The composition of the panel, the charge to the panel, and the implementation was such a testimony of the high quality of the leadership of SAIP under Edmond Zingu. May he rest in peace.
Tessema G.X.

To this excellent tribute, I would like to add my personal sadness at the passing of a truly great South African, whose impact on my own life enabled me to transform to our new democracy.
Japie Engelbrecht

 


[1] Physics Today, Vol 54 (9) Sept 2001, p 27, http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1420507

[2] Physics World, October 2005, pp 12-13, http://physicsworld.com/cws/archive/print/18/10

[3] Physics Today, Vol 57 (1) Jan 2004, p 37, http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1650068

[4] Chen, S. H., L. R. Zheng, J. C. Barbour, E. C. Zingu, L. S. Hung, C. B. Carter, and J. W. Mayer. “Lateral-diffusion couples studied by transmission electron microscopy.” Materials Letters 2, no. 6 (1984): 469-476. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0167-577X(84)90075-2

Zingu, E. C., J. W. Mayer, C. Comrie, and R. Pretorius. “Mobility of Pd and Si in Pd2Si.” Physical Review B 30, no. 10 (1984): 5916. http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevB.30.5916

[5] Zingu, E. C., and B. T. Mofokeng. “Diffusional Phase Transformation under Induced Thermal Stress.” In MRS Proceedings, vol. 230, no. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1991. http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/PROC-230-145

Zingu, E. C., and B. T. Mofokeng. “Stress Relaxation During Diffusional Phase Transformation Under Induced Thermal Stress.” In Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings, vol. 308, pp. 85-85. Materials Research Society, 1994. http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/PROC-308-85

Diale, M., C. Challens, and E. C. Zingu. “Cobalt self‐diffusion during cobalt silicide growth.” Applied Physics Letters, vol. 62, no. 9 (1993): pp 943-945. http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.108527

[6] P. Whitelock,  Tribute given at the Memorial Service for Prof Edmund Zingu held on 25 April 2013 at the University of the Western Cape

8 Policy Issues that Every Physicist Should Follow October 5, 2012

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (AMO), Chemical and Biological Physics (CBP), Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Medical Physics (MED), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP), Photonics and Optics (POP), Physics Education Research (PER), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

#1. Federal Science Budget and Sequestration
The issue of funding for science is always with us.  With few exceptions everyone seems to agree that investment in science, technology and innovation is fundamentally necessary for America’s national and economic security.  Successive Administrations and Congresses have rhetorically praised science, and have declared that federal science agencies, particular NSF, DOE Office of Science and NIH should see their respective budgets doubled.  Where the rhetoric has met with action in the last decade, recent flat-lined budget increases, and the projections for the next decade erode these increases in real terms, and in fact in the next few years the federal R&D budget could regress back to 2002 levels and in several cases to historic lows in terms of real spending power.

What is sequestration?
Last year Congress passed the Budget Control Act with the goal of cutting federal spending by $1.2T relative to the Congressional Budget Office baseline from 2010 over 10 years.  The broad policy issues in the Budget Control Act follow from the fact that the total amount and the rate of growth of the federal public debt is on an unsustainable path.  The Budget Control Act would only reduce the rate of growth but not reduce the debt itself.  The basic choices are to increase taxes and/or to decrease spending.

The Budget Control Act also established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was to produce a plan to reach the goal.  If the committee did not agree on a plan, the legislation provided for large, automatic – starting in January 2013 (already one quarter through FY13), across-the-board cuts to federal spending.  This is called sequestration.  The committee could not come to an agreement, and as a result the federal government faces what has been termed a ‘fiscal cliff’ where simultaneously several tax provisions will expire (resulting in tax increases) in addition to the sharp spending cuts.  This will most certainly plunge the economy into a recession.

Sequestration would require at least 8% budget cuts immediately in FY13 (the current year).  In the political lexicon on this topic federal spending is divided into defense and non-defense.  The current formula would put somewhat slightly more of the cuts on non-defense programs, but there is talk of putting all burden of sequestration on non-defense programs.  If the burden is borne only by non-defense programs, some agencies could lose as much as 17%.

It is important to emphasize that these would be immediate cuts starting with FY13 budgets, so a $100K grant for this year would suddenly become $92K, or possibly $83K.  Then from the sequestration budgets, the Budget Control Act would require flat budgets for the subsequent 5 years.  While it would generally be up to the agencies to figure out how to distribute the immediate cuts, it is instructive to see how the cuts would impact agencies that are important overall to physics and astronomy research.

How does it impact physics?
The R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS has done a masterful job at analyzing sequestration and its impact on science agencies. The cases of DOD and NIH provide some general indications of the effects of sequestration.  DOD is the single largest supporter of R&D amongst the federal agencies, and NIH is the second largest.  Under sequestration they would lose $7B and $2.5B, respectively.  Inside the DOD number is funding for basic and applied science, including DARPA programs.  These accounts would lose a combined $1.5B.  But there is an important dichotomy between DOD and NIH.  IF the Congress and Administration decide to apply the cuts only to non-defense programs, the cuts at NIH would have to be deeper (to meet the overall targets), while the cuts at DOD would remain unchanged.

At NSF, if the cuts are applied truly across the board, $500M would immediately be eliminated from the agency’s FY13 budget.  In a scenario where the cuts are applied only to non-defense spending the NSF cuts could be just over $1B.  It would be as if the NSF budget had regressed back to 2002 levels, basically wiping out a decade of growth.  To further put these cuts into context, NSF’s total FY13 budget request for research and related activities is $5.7B, including $1.345B for the entire Math and Physical Sciences Directorate.  One billion dollars is what the agency spends on major equipment and facilities construction and on education and human resources combined.  It is by far larger than the Faculty Early Career Development and the Graduate Research Fellowship programs.  And put one last way, the cuts would mean at least 2500 fewer grants awarded.

Under the sequestration scenario where defense and non-defense program bear the brunt of cuts equally, the DOE Office of Science could lose $362M immediately in FY13, while NNSA which funds Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia national labs, would lose at least $300M.  Again these cuts would be deeper if the Congress votes, and the President agrees to subject the cuts only to non-defense programs.  The Office of Science cut is nearly equivalent to the requested FY13 budget for fusion energy research ($398M).  The Office of Science had enjoyed a fair level of support in the past decade, but sequestration would take the agency back to FY08 spending levels or to FY00 if the cuts are applied to non-defense programs only.

NASA would immediately lose at least $763M with the Science Directorate losing nearly $250M.  Again these cuts would be much deeper if distributed only to non-defense programs.  In that scenario NASA would immediately lose $1.7B in FY13, more than the FY13 budget for James Webb Space Telescope ($627M) or the Astrophysics Division ($659M).

What should you do?
In summary, the overall objective of the Budget Control Act is to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2T over the next decade.  This would slow the rate of increase of the overall federal debt.  The Act was resolution of political gamesmanship over raising debt ceiling, which has to be increased from time to time to authorize the federal government to make outlays encumbered in part by prior year obligations.  The sticky issue was taxes.  The GOP, which generally desires more spending cuts than Democrats, was not willing to agree to anything that involved a tax increase.

Besides wanting to preserve more investments in discretionary programs, President Obama was not willing to push too hard on increasing taxes given the weak economy, and probably wanting to avoid the adverse politics of increasing taxes before the election.  Subsequently because the Congress could not agree on a way to produce $1.2T in deficit reduction over 10 years, the law requires sequestration of FY13 budgets, i.e., immediate and draconian cuts (8-17%), the mechanics of which would have serious adverse effects to the entire US economy.

Both before the election and after you should contact the President, your Senators and Representative, and urge them act urgently to steer the federal government away from sequestration and the fiscal cliff.


#2. Timeliness of Appropriations
What is the issue?
The US Constitution requires that “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” Each year the federal budget process begins on the first Tuesday in February when the President sends the Administration’s budget request to Congress.  In a two-step process Congress authorizes programs and top-line budgets; then it specifically appropriates spending authority to the Administration for those programs.  The federal fiscal year begins on October 1st, and when Congress does not complete their two-step process, operations of the federal government are held in limbo.  Essentially the government is not authorized to spend money.  This is overcome by passing “continuing resolutions” that basically continue the government’s programs at the prior year programmatic and obligating authorities.

How does it affect physics?
Continuing resolutions wreak havoc for the Administration, i.e, for funding agencies, and consequently for federal science programs.  They prevent new programs from coming online and the planned shutdown of programs.  Because federal program directors cannot know what their final obligating authority will ultimately be, they have to be very careful with how much they spend.  The consequences of over-spending obligating authority are unpleasant.  Keeping a science program going under the uncertainty of the continuing resolution is hard, and in some cases impossible.

What should you do?
Physicists would be well advised to tune into the status of appropriations for agencies from which they get funding, plan accordingly, and use their voices to pressure Congress to finish the appropriations process by October 1st.

#3. Availability of Critical Materials: Helium, Mo-99 and Minerals
Helium shortage?
Helium is not only an inordinately important substance in physics research, but also in several other industrial and consumer marketplaces.  But despite its natural abundance, it is difficult to make helium available and usable at a reasonable cost.  Usable helium supplies are actually dwindling at a troubling rate, and price fluctuations are having very undesirable effects in scientific research and other sectors.

Most usable helium is produced as a by-product in natural gas production.  Gas fields in the United States have a higher concentration of helium than those found in other countries.  Those facts, combined with decades of recognition of helium’s value to military and space operations, scientific research and industrial processes, Congress enacted legislation to create the Federal Helium Program, which has the largest reserve of available helium in the world.

Enter the policy issues.  In an effort to downsize the government in 1996, Congress enacted legislation to eliminate the helium reserve by 2015 and to privatize helium production.  But the pricing structure required by the 1996 legislation led to price suppression, and thus private companies have been slow to come into the industry as producers, even as demand has been steadily increasing.  So with the federal government’s looming exit from helium production, it does not seem that there is another entity with the capacity to meet the growing demand of helium at a reasonable price.  The few other sources of usable helium available from other countries have nowhere near the US government’s production capacity.

To address this problem Senator Bingaman of New Mexico introduced the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012.  This is a bipartisan bill sponsored by two Democratic and two Republican Senators.  This legislation would authorize operation of the Federal Helium Program beyond 2015.  It would maintain a roughly 15-year supply for federal users, including the holders of research grants.  This should guarantee federal users, including research grant holders, a supply of helium until about 2030.  It would also set conditions for private corporations to more easily enter the helium production business.

But since no action was taken in this Congress, it will have to be reintroduced in January 2013 when the new Congress convenes, and it will have to be taken up in the House after being passed in the Senate.

[Update] On March 20, 2013 the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved legislation that would significantly reform how one-half of the nation’s domestic helium supply is managed and sold. H.R. 527, the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act would maintain the reserve’s operation, require semi-annual helium auctions, and provide access to pipeline infrastructure for pre-approved bidders, in addition to other provisions on matters such as refining and minimum pricing. The bill now moves to the House floor. On the Senate side, Senators Wyden and Murkowski have released a draft of their legislation addressing this issue.

Mo-99 is in short supply too.
There are other critical materials for which Congressional action is pending.  Molybdenum-99 is used to produce technetium-99m, which is used in 30 million medical imaging procedures every year.  But the global supply of molybdenum-99 is not keeping up with the global demand.  There are no production facilities located in the United States, but legislation pending in Congress would authorize funding to establish a DOE program that supports industry and universities in the domestic production of Mo-99 using low enriched uranium.  Highly enriched uranium is exported from the US to support medical isotope production, but this is considered to be a grave global security risk.  The legislation would prohibit exports of highly enriched uranium.

Again this legislation passed the Senate in the last Congress but was not taken up in the House.  It will have to be reintroduced in the next Congress, which convenes in January 2013.  But a technical solution announced by scientists in Canada and another by a team from Los Alamos, Brookhaven and Oak Ridge national laboratories may change the landscape for this particular problem.

Another piece of legislation called the Critical Minerals Policy Act sought to revitalize US supply chain of so-called critical minerals, ranging from rare earth elements, cobalt, thorium and several others.  It was opposed by several environmental groups, and the economics of some mineral markets are attracting some private investment in American sources.

What should you do?
Urge the Senators and Representatives on the relevant committees to reintroduce the Helium Stewardship Act, the Critical Minerals Policy Act as well as legislation that authorizes and appropriates funding for Mo-99 production in the US.

#4. K-12 Education: Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards
What are the Common Core Standards Initiative and the Next Generation Science Standards?
In 2009 49 states and territories elected to join the Common Core Standards Initiative, a state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics.  The initiative is led jointly by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.  In 2012 the ‘Common Core’ standards were augmented with the Next Generation Science Standards.

How does this affect physics?
The National Research Council released A Framework for K-12 Science Education that focused on the integration of science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas that together constitute rigorous scientific literacy for all students.  The NGSS were developed with this framework in mind.  The goal of the NGSS is to produce students with the capacity to discuss and think critically about science related issues as well asbe well prepared for college-level science courses.

Setting and adopting the Common Core and NGSS are not federal matters.  The federal government has a very small footprint in the overall initiative.  Rather the policy action on adopting these standards will at the state, school district, and maybe even the individual school levels.

What should you do?
Physicists in particular should be collaborative with K-12 teachers and help where appropriate to implement the curriculum strategies that best position students for STEM careers.  Physicist-teacher collaborations are also very necessary to ensure that the content of physical science courses cover the fundamentals but also incorporate the forefront of scientific knowledge.

#5. State Funding for Education
National Science Board signals the problem
The National Science Board, the oversight body of the National Science Foundation, recently released report on the declining support for public universities by the various governors and state legislatures.  According to the report, state support for public research universities fell 20 percent between 2002 and 2010, after accounting for inflation and increased enrollment of about 320,000 students nationally.  In the state of Colorado, the home of JILA, between 2002 and 2010 state support for public universities fell 30 percent.

Public research universities perform the majority of academic science and engineering research that is funded by the federal government, as well as train and educate a disproportionate share of science students.  But government financial support for public universities has been eroding for decades actually.

The issue is not so much the movement of the best students and faculty from public institutions and private institutions.  All institutions of higher education are federally tax-exempt organizations, thus in some sense they all are public institutions.  Rather the issue is support for the infrastructure that supports innovation, economic prosperity, national security, rational thought, liberty and freedom.

How does this impact physics?
In physics we saw the effects of declining support of higher education in Texas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Florida where physics programs where closed.  In other states budget driven realities have meant physics departments being subsumed by large math or chemistry departments.

What should you do?
Public and private universities will have to find efficiencies and yield to greater scrutiny as they always have.  But physicists will have to stand up and remind their state governors and legislators of their value to institutions of higher education in terms of educating a science-literate populace as well as producing new knowledge and knowledge workers needed for innovation and economic growth.

#6. College Student Enrollment and Retention
Earlier this year the Presidential Council of Science and Technology Advisors released a report entitled Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S.  will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.  To meet this goal, the United States will need to increase the number of students who receive undergraduate STEM degrees by about 34% annually over current rates.  Currently the United States graduates about 300,000 bachelor and associate degrees in STEM fields annually.

The problem is low retention rates for STEM students
Fewer than 40% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree.  Increasing the retention of STEM majors from 40% to 50% would, alone, generate three quarters of the targeted 1 million additional STEM degrees over the next decade.  The PCAST report focuses much on retention.  It proposes five “overarching recommendations to transform undergraduate STEM education during the transition from high school to college” and during the first two undergraduate years, (1) catalyze widespread adoption of empirically validated teaching practices, (2) advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses, (3) launch a national experiment in postsecondary mathematics education to address the mathematics preparation gap, (4) encourage partnerships among stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers, and (5) create a Presidential Council on STEM Education with leadership from the academic and business communities to provide strategic leadership for transformative and sustainable change in STEM undergraduate education.

How is physics impacted?
The New Physics Faculty Workshops put on by APS and AAPT were mentioned in the report for changing the participants’ teaching methods and having had positive effects on student achievement and engagement.  The report also explicitly calls for NSF to create a “STEM Institutional Transformation Awards” competitive grants program.  But the delegation that met with the Texas Board of Higher Education was confronted with student retention data in physics compared to other STEM fields, and was

This all ties together with federal budgets for STEM education and research, and to the issue of state support for public education.  The lesson from Texas in particular is that physics must do a better job of retaining students in the major or face relative extinction in the academe.

What should you do?
PCAST would say engage your students to excel.  Everyone involved in physics instruction should continually assess their teaching methods and student outcomes.  Every thing from textbooks and labs used to the social environment of the department should be on the table for improvement.


#7. Attacks on Political Science and Other Social Sciences
When science is politicized, caricatured and ridiculed we all lose
In May 2012 the US House of Representatives voted to eliminate the political science program at the National Science Foundation.  The effort was spearheaded by Arizona Republican Jeff Flake.

Congressman, now Senator, Flake was ostensibly concerned about Federal spending and wants to make the point there are some government programs that we must learn to do without.  But the concern for scientists is the approach of singling out individual projects and programs and subjecting them to ridicule only based on their titles.  This rhetorical and political device is used quite a bit, even in biomedical science.  And when it is, it diminishes science everywhere.

More recently, Representative Cantor and others have spoken out against funding social science research, targeting specifically political science research by saying that taxpayers should not fund research on “politics”.  It is important to understand the difference between political science and politics.  Political science research is necessary knowledge for citizens to enjoy the fullness of freedom.  Moreover political science research is especially a hedge against tyranny and deception by politicians.

Attacks on NSF funding of the social science are not new.  NSF funding for the social sciences was slated to be zeroed out during the Reagan administration.  One result was a spirited defense of the importance of such work by the National Science Board that appeared in its annual report provocatively titled, “Only One Science.”  The Board was then chaired by Lewis Branscomb, a distinguished physicist, who led the effort to build the case for the social sciences.

Physicists today need to channel Dr. Branscomb and be more learned and active on policy matters.  Particle physics, astronomy and cosmology are not immune from the same kind of attacks being waged against political science.   There are of course many tales of even the most esoteric results of physics research from yesterday having an profound impact in our economy today.  Generally it seems politicians judge the utility of a funded research project from the project name or maybe its brief project summary.  That in itself tends to ridicule science and scientists in ways that are quite destructive.   So all scientists should advocate for intellectual inquiry and its innate public benefits.  Golden Fleece attacks against science may focus on genetic analysis in Drosophila melanogaster one day, political dynamics in a small foreign country another day, but it could be cold atoms on an optical lattice the next.

[UPDATE] On March 20, 2013 the bill to fund the government for the rest of FY13 passed the Senate contained an amendment to bar NSF from funding political science research unless the director can certify that the research would promote “the national security or economic interests of the United States.”  The House passed the same bill the next day.  President Obama is expected to sign it.  So for the next few months at least certain political scientists may be frozen out of NSF funding.

The Colburn amendment probably could not have made it through in regular order, i.e., the normal process of budget legislating consisting of the President’s request, Congressional authorization followed by appropriation, and final action by the President.   But in a situation where time becomes a critical element, and there is “must-pass” legislation actively under consideration, these things can happen.  This underscores the need for political knowledge and information, as well as vigilant, persistent and nimble activism.

What should you do?

The bill eliminating NSF’s political science program has only passed the House.  It was never taken up in the Senate.  But in 2011 Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn advocated for the elimination of the entire NSF Social, Behavioral and Economics Directorate.  If either measure was to become law it would have to be reintroduced in the next Congress.  Physicists should stay abreast of attacks on other intellectual disciplines, because one day those attacks will be directed at physics and astronomy research.

[Update March 27, 2013]  Political scientists suffered a setback in the continuing resolution for FY-13.  Both the House and Senate approved an amendment offered by Senator Coburn that would bar NSF from awarding any grants in political science unless the director can certify that the research would promote “the national security or economic interests of the United States.” The political science programs at NSF have a combined budget of $13 million. The legislation requires the NSF director to move the uncertified amount to other programs. President Barack Obama as signed the legislation. This kind of action against social science research is not new, but this is the first time in a long while that such a measure actually has become law.

Given the exact wording of the Coburn amendment, it is only valid until September 30, 2013, when the continuing resolution expires.  As a distinct point of lawmaking it may or may not survive the regular order of budgeting, authorizing and appropriating.

#8. Open Access to Research Literature
There is much public concern about having access to the output (manifest as journal articles) from publicly funded research.  And scientists worldwide are of course very concerned about rising journals subscription prices.

Last December the Research Works Act (RWA) was introduced in the U.S.  Congress.  The bill contains provisions to prohibit open-access mandates for federally funded research, and severely restrict the sharing of scientific data.  Had it passed it would have gutted the NIH Public Access Policy.  Many scientists considered the RWA antithetical to the principle of openness and free information flow in science.  Perhaps owing to much public outcry, the proposed legislation was abandoned by its original sponsors.

The United Kingdom and the EU have just adopted a policy where all research papers from government funded research will be open-access to the public.  To support this policy financing for journals will sourced from author payments instead of subscriber payments.  This is a major change that will require much transition in marketing, management and finance.

Open-access policy should balance the interests of the public, the practitioners of the scholarly field, as well as commercial and professional association publishers that add value to the process of communicating and archiving research results.  Scholarly publishing is a complex, dynamic and global marketplace.  It is not likely that one solution will be satisfactory for all consumers and producers (which in this marketplace are sometimes one in the same).  New business models, new communication strategies and realizations what the true demand for scholarly articles will likely be more helpful than precipitous government action.

Simply Harmonic Jello – Fun Physics for Thanksgiving November 23, 2010

Posted by admin in : Acoustics (ACOU), Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Physics Education Research (PER) , add a comment

Jello is fun and delicious any time of year, and everyone has seen it “wiggling” and “jiggling”.  With a simple stopwatch and counting the frequency of the wiggles, serving jello brings up a special opportunity to work a physics experiment into your snack and dinner menu.

Those wiggles and jiggles can be described as simple harmonic motion, i.e., the force causing the displacement (motion) is proportional to the displacement itself,  F = -kx .

Consider a square block of wiggling jello on a flat plate.  If the jello is set into vibrating motion by a shear force that acts on the top of the jello, static friction will keep the bottom of the jello fixed in place on the plate.   The displacement (or deformation) of the top of the jello due to the shear force is some distance,  x . This displacement divided by the original dimension is called the shear strain.

From Giancoli, Physics for Scientists and Engineers

If you measure the wiggling rate, i.e., count the number of back and forth excursions per unit time, this frequency can be related to the a physical property of the jello called the shear modulus.

The shear modulus,  G relates the shear force,  F , and shear strain,  \frac{x}{h}   by  

 G = \frac{Fh}{Ax}    or F = \frac{GAx}{h}

where   A is the area of the top of the block.

Because the center of mass oscillates with half the displacement of the top,

 F=\frac{1}{2} k_e x ,

and the effective force constant is given by

 k_{e} = 2\frac{ F}{x} = \frac{2GA}{h} .

The frequency of the vibrations for any simple harmonic oscillator is

 f =\frac{1}{2 \pi} \sqrt{\frac{k_e}{m}}

where  m is the  mass oscillating object, in this case the piece of jello.  The piece of jello can be weighed directly (converting from weight to mass) or given by the density of the jello multiplied by its volume  m= \rho Ah .

So the wiggling frequency of jello is        \frac{1}{2 \pi}  \sqrt{\frac{\frac{2GA}{h}}{\rho Ah}} or  \frac{1}{2 \pi h}{\sqrt{ \frac{2G}{\rho}} .

Thus the shear modulus of jello can be determined from the measured vibrational frequency by  G= 2 \rho ( \pi  f h)^2  .

You can try this experiment at home and even study how the shear modulus changes with how you make the jello, i.e., with water, vinegar, juice, soda, or alcohol. And you can investigate how temperature changes the shear modulus.

Post your results here as a comment.   Check back for updates and useful data.

Updates

Units? When doing any calculation in science it is important to keep in mind the units of the factors in used in the equations.  The units have to be consistent throughout, and the final derived units of your calculation should be consistent with quantity that you are trying to calculate.  It is easy to mix up units if you make length measurements using English units, and mass measurements in the metric system for example.   Even when using the metric system throughout, one could easily make the mistake of mixing CGS units with MKS units.  Always check your units.

The density of jello? Understanding what jello is and how it is made is an interesting lesson in biochemistry, particularly protein structure and function.

The more general name for jello is gelatin.  (Jell-0 is a brand name for the foodstuff – edible gelatin – that has become synonymous with the food itself.) Gelatin is made from the connective tissue proteins of cows or pigs. It is made first by breaking down the cellular structure of the connective tissues.  Then collagen proteins from these tissues are isolated, denatured and subsequently rendered to a powdered form.  Sweeteners, flavoring agents, dyes and other additives are added to this powder to make the familiar gelatin dessert.  To make jello you have to add boiling water to the powder which dis-aggregates the proteins.   Cooling the mixture re-aggregates the proteins.   The final jello mold will be a complex solid mixture of proteins, water, air, and chemical additives.

This leads us to consider the density of jello, which like the biological tissue from which it comes, is mostly water.

Water’s density is  1 \frac{g}{cm^3} = 1000 \frac{kg}{m^3} .  So the density has to be close to water.  But the various additives result in partial molar volumes that contract or expand the total volume.   The final volume depends on the thermodynamic nature of the additives and their relative concentrations.  So while it is easy to think that in any given volume of jello there are constituents that are heavier than water, and that the density should be greater than  1 g/cm^3 , the complex mixture of additives could result in the overall density being less than  1 g/cm^3 .  The most prudent thing to do is to take a well measured cube of jello, calculate its volume (or use volume displacement), weigh it, then calculate its density.

Reported densities for  jello have ranged from  0.98 - 1.3 g/cm^3 (with sugar-free variants being on the low end), while for scientific gelatin (without all the food additives) the density has been reported to be  1.3 g/cm^3 .

Doing Business with DOE February 10, 2009

Posted by NPP Section Chair in : Acoustics (ACOU), Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (AMO), Chemical and Biological Physics (CBP), Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS), Fluid and Plasma Physics (FPP), Mathematical and Computational Physics (MCP), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP), Photonics and Optics (POP), Physics Education Research (PER) , add a comment

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Learn how you can work alongside scientists and engineers experienced at mentoring who want to transfer science knowledge by collaborative research. These programs are for undergraduate students from four year institutions, community colleges, or for students who are preparing to become K-12 science, math or technology teachers and for undergraduate faculty. Internships are available at all DOE national labs.

Up to 8 qualified undergraduate students will be considered for placement in the summer of 2009. The laboratories also have graduate and post-doc opportunities. We look forward to seeing you in Nashville! Please come join us at Booth 304 and the other booths in the DOE Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall Thursday and Friday or at any of the following activities and workshops:

Physics Diversity Summit: Discussion with Bill Valdez, Director, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists

Date: Wednesday, February 11

Time: 2:00 PM

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