Amherst Professor Hilborn to Head National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics

July 31, 2001
Director of Media Relations
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AMHERST, Mass.-The ExxonMobil Foundation has awarded the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics $133,000 to support Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics (SPIN-UP). Robert C. Hilborn, The Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Physics at Amherst College and the chair of the Task Force, says it is charged with planning, developing, and coordinating activities aimed at “revitalizing” undergraduate physics programs across the country and providing advice to the professional organizations and the physics community at large about undergraduate physics.

The program’s goals are to involve more than half of the 762 undergraduate physics departments in responding to the changing scientific and education environment; to recruit more students who major in physics; to create undergraduate physics courses that can contribute to the education of all undergraduate students, including science majors, pre-service teachers, and non-science majors; and to work with similar groups in other scientific and engineering disciplines to promote common efforts to improve undergraduate science, mathematics and engineering education.

For 2001-02, SPIN-UP will focus on a survey of all undergraduate physics programs in the U.S. and on site visits to about 20 departments with thriving undergraduate physics programs. A case study report of the site visits will be distributed to all physics departments in the country.

Hilborn points out that SPIN-UP’s unique approach to undergraduate science is based on three principles: that revitalization is more than curricular reform; that the physics department is the critical unit for change in undergraduate education; and that all reform is ultimately local. “One size does not fit all” for serious innovation.

“The ExxonMobil Foundation is pleased to support SPIN-UP as part of our program in undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to foster improvement in teaching and learning in these disciplines,” said Ed Ahnert, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation. “We are particularly committed to improving science literacy of all undergraduate students within two-year and four-year institutions, and think that this initiative by the Task Force will help to address that need specifically for physics.”

Hilborn, who currently serves as the associate dean of the faculty at Amherst, is a past president of the American Association of Physics Teachers, which sponsors the Task Force with the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics. Physics departments interested in being part of the site visit program should contact the Task Force at taskforce@aapt.org. Further information about the Task Force is available at the website http://www.aapt.org/programs/ntfup/.

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