SPACS Colloquium: “Rethinking Physics for Biologists: Adapting to a major new service course constituency”

April 18, 2013 3pm Art and Design Building Room 2003

Edward F. Redish
Department of Physics
University of Maryland


Abstract: Though many physics departments offer a variety of introductory physics classes, most of the larger departments offer (and support themselves on) two main year-long service courses – a calculus-based one and an algebra-based introductory one. At universities with engineering schools, the calculus-based course is primarily designed to serve the needs of engineers. Traditionally, the algebra-based course serves a variety of populations: pre-meds, nurses, architects, kinesiologists, and students looking for a lab course to satisfy a distribution requirement. Looking at the texts for the algebra-based class it’s pretty clear that this is a “cut down” version of the calculus-based class – as if it were designed to serve potential engineers with limited skills in mathematics. But over the past decade, a growing fraction of this class are students who are not weak engineering students, but strong biology students. Furthermore, the biology community has been increasingly calling for stronger, more appropriate, and more interdisciplinary science classes for biologists and pre-health care professionals. Physicists around the country have begun collaborating with biologists to create an “Introductory Physics for Life Sciences” (IPLS) class. In this talk I will describe one such effort at the University of Maryland. As part of the “National Experiment in Undergraduate Science Education” (NEXUS) a large team of physicists biologists, and chemists working with our Physics and Biology Education

Research Groups (PERG & BERG) have been rethinking and redesigning introductory physics for biology majors. I will present some of our observations, difficulties, ideas, and present preliminary results from the first trial year of this class.