The author is ScIU guest writer Corrine Deegan, a graduate student in IU’s Department of Physics.
What do you remember the most from your pre-college physics lessons? Perhaps you learned something about how every action has an equal and opposite reaction, or perhaps you were lucky enough to be shocked by a Van der Graaf generator. Upon discovering that I study physics, most people generally have one of two key responses: they either recount some typically negative story from their high school physics class or insist that anyone who studies physics must be brilliant. For better or worse, these reactions are generally constant across age groups.
While these reactions are generally not positive, it is nearly impossible to blame the students when the traditional teaching methods leave much to be desired. Introductory physics courses are often taught following the same unfortunate series of events: first, we are made to memorize the right equation and then we are confused when the problem is not identical to a homework problem whose solution is already known. In addition, courses at the introductory level must cover the less glamorous fundamentals of the discipline, which admittedly can be somewhat of a bore to anyone expecting the levitating magnets or lasers seen in the media. To improve the perception that physics is boring and/or impossible, we need to connect the basics of the subject to current research and familiar technology. And professors like Dr. Babak Seradjeh are doing just that. (more…)