Physics at Brigham Young University

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PHYSICS AT BRIGHAM
YOUNG UNIVERSITY
Steve Turley
June 26, 2010
Outline
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Introduction to BYU
Department Culture
Introductory Courses
Advanced Courses
Student Mentoring
Majors
Facts About BYU
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Location: Provo, Utah
Total Undergraduate Enrollment: capped at about
30,000
Private, Religiously Oriented
significant financial support from LDS church
 vast majority of students are Mormon
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Students from all 50 states and 110 foreign countries,
but mostly from the West
30% from Utah
 13% from California
 5% each from Washington, Idaho, Texas
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History
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University founded 1875 (high school)
First physics course 1881
First full-time physics instructor 1901
First physics graduate (Fletcher), 1907
Department formed 1911 (Fletcher)
C. F. Eyring head, 1916-1951
MS degrees 1933, PhD in 1959
Admissions Selectivity
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Some enrollment pressure, but most applicants are
admitted
Some self-selection
 Average
high school GPA: 3.8
 90% have ACT scores between 24 and 30
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Relatively high retention (about 93%)
BYU Physics Faculty
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33 Full-Time Faculty (11 Prof/16 Assoc/6 Asst)
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Almost all are research-active
Research areas
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Astronomy/astrophysics
Acoustics
Plasma
Atomic
Optical
Condensed Matter
Nuclear
General Relativity
Statistical Mechanics
Number of Physics Majors
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Grew significantly from 1995-2000, a period when
other programs were shrinking
Stable since then.
Graduates Per Year
Relatively Small Graduate Program
Department Culture
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Student emphasis
Collegiality
College and institutional ties strong
 past
history
 alignment with institutional values
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Values
 Teaching
 Relationships
 Excellence
Attracting and Retaining Majors
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Orientation
Advisement
Promoting student-student interactions
Faculty mentoring
Undergraduate research
Teaching emphasis
Department culture
Orientation
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Freshmen meeting with SPS Officers, Associate
Chair, and U-grad Advisor
 Introductions
 Suggestions
for Success
 Undergraduate Handbook
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Required Introduction to Physics Class
Advisement
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Formal Advising
 Class
advisors
 On-call advisors
 College Advisement Center
 Peer Advisors
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Informal Advising
 Research
Advisors
 Other Students
Promoting Student-Student Interactions
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Very Active SPS Chapter
 Monthly
meetings
 Outreach
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Undergraduate Study Room
Open Tutorial Labs
Peer Instruction
Undergraduate Research Groups
Teaching Emphasis
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Evaluation
 Annual
interviews
 Rank and status reviews
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Departmental Teaching Discussions
Outstanding full-time faculty teach general
education and service courses
Student involvement as TA’s
Collegial environment for constructive formative and
summative evaluation of each other’s teaching
Introductory Courses
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taught in large sections (100-300)
taught by our best full-time faculty
mostly taken by engineers, other majors in our
college, and potential physics majors
seen as critical to attracting and keeping majors
 many
decide on a physics major their freshman and
sophomore years
Calculus-Based Physics
Algebra-Based Physics
General Education
Physical Science 100
Transition Courses
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Introductory labs taught early in their experience to
give them tools needed for undergraduate research
Modern Physics class first one with mostly physics
majors
 emphasis
on professional development
 encouragement to seek research experiences
 connections with other majors
Upper Division Courses
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variety, taught frequently (large department)
enrollment 25-35
standard texts and sequences: math physics,
computational physics, labs, thermal physics, optics,
electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics
specialized courses: astrophysics, acoustics, solid
state
special topics (rare): biophysics, chaos
Faculty Mentoring
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Undergraduate Research Experiences
 Many
start in first and second year
 Students recruiting students
 SPS Research night
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Inviting students to lunch
Faculty accessibility
 Office
hours
 Open door policy
Undergraduate Research
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Senior Thesis, Honors Thesis, Capstone Experience,
or Student Teaching required of all graduates.
Most get department, college, or university support
Assessment
 Alumni
survey: overwhelming majority said it was a
good or excellent experience
 Exit interviews: very challenging, but often a defining
undergraduate experience
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Requires a lot of faculty time
Senior and Honors Theses
Theses
Completed Senior/Honors Theses
45
40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0
'00 '01 '02 '03 '04 '05 '06 '07 '08 '09
Year
Capstone Projects
Completed Capstone Projects
Capstone Projects
20
15
10
5
0
'03
'04
'05
'06
Year
'07
'08
'09
Majors
Undergraduate Majors by Program
Students
200
150
BS Physics
100
Applied: Selected Options
Astronomy
Applied: Computer Science
Physics/PS Education
50
Applied Physics*
0
'99 '00 '01 '02 '03 '04 '05 '06 '07 '08 '09
Year
Physics Education
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Used to complain about the preparation of our
entering students
Realized, we were training most of their teachers
Allies and colleagues
 student
preparation
 recruitment
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Great TA’s
Stimulate department discussion of teaching
Relationships
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strong support from college and other departments
good cooperation with College of Education
 gave
us an FTE to hire teacher education specialist
 we help them a lot with supervising student teaching
and many committee assignments
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students get strong reinforcement from faculty about
choice of secondary teaching (class and research
groups)
these are sometimes some of our best students
(Carolyn Evans)
Decision on Physics Education Major
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all of the students I interviewed made final decision
about major after coming to BYU
majors
 some
from other physics majors
 many from other departments (flexible entry)
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introductory courses matter a lot
 pedagogy
 engagement
Departmental Support
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full-fledged students (Spring Research Conference
Award winners)
rewards for excellence in tutoring labs, etc.
mentoring (teaching and research groups)
“every way we can”
facilitate late entry into major
 ask students and TA’s for opinions on teaching
 personalize courses to their interests (paper topics, for
instance)
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students need to feel valued, cared for, and assisted
Cultural Helps
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service-oriented school
strong culture of teaching
 department
 missionary
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experience
strong emphasis on families
 secondary
school teaching often a good choice for
students who want to spend f a lot of time with families
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momentum (word of mouth)
many different reasons for making choice
Other Factors
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Methods class taught by someone with classroom
experience
Shared core courses
One physics teacher responsible for whole group
Excellent relationships with local schools
Weekly “group meetings”
build apparatus
 talk about salaries
 discuss job opportunities
 answer questions
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Change of Culture
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Five years ago we averaged a couple of physics
graduates a year
Major change
 hired
good people
 shift in department culture
 concerted effort
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Now average about 12 physics education
graduates a year
5% of total U.S. physics education graduates in
2006
Alumni Survey—Recruiting
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Personal enrichment (91%)
Reputation of faculty (29%)
Reputation of program (36%)
Interest in subject area (100%)
Influence of family (39%)
Influence of other students (13%)
Influence of faculty members (20%)
When Students Chose Major
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Before college 53%
Freshman year 21%
Sophomore year 14%
Junior year 4%
Senior year 1%
Why Students Chose Major
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Direct interest in subject (53)
Understanding how things work (48)
Indirect Interest
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Math (23)
Other field(4)
Flexible/Broad major (17)
Difficulty
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Challenge/Intellectual Stimulation (22)
Aptitude (10)
Choosing a Physics Major
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Disciplinary Characteristics
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Fun(13)
Religious/Aesthetic Reasons (10)
Problem solving (9)
Hands-on (8)
Fundamental, logical, concrete, meaningful, creative surprises
Financial
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Career good (4)
Scholarship (1)
Recruiting
Influence of Others
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High School Course/Teacher (23)
College Course
 Introductory
Course (14)
 Caring Faculty (2)
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Family (6)
Why Students Kept Major
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Continued interest in subject (69)
Community: Professors (28), Students (11)
Inertia/Perseverance (23)
Challenge/Reward/Growth/Prestige (23)
Research Experiences (10)
Job/Career (8)
Broad Subject, Options (7)
Aptitude (6)
Still fun (5)
Other Reasons to Stay
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Predictable subject (“not art”)
Like learning new things
Organization of Department or Major
Increased understanding
Enjoy math or problem solving
Family encouragement
Want to help world or community
Religious motivations
Scholarship requirement
Summary
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Many factors lead to a strong department
Department culture and relationships important
 result
from intangibles
 passing these on to the next generation
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Count the cost
Play to your strengths
Physics education defines our future
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