Department highlights over winter break 2013.

AAPT 2013 winter meeting

January 5-9, Catalyst Center director Michael Loverude, postdoctoral scholar Sissi Li and physics graduate student April Hankins attended the 2013 winter national meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers in New Orleans, LA. The conference provided an opportunity to interact with researchers and teachers in physics education. The CSUF researchers presented research talks and posters, met with collaborators, and discussed ongoing and future research projects. Hankins collaborated on one poster with students and faculty from Cal Poly Pomona presented a second poster on her own research titled "Do Proportional Reasoning Skills Affect Student Performance in Intro. Astronomy?" Dr. Li presented research on how physics community norms are developed and supported in an upper-division course in a talk titled "Fostering Future Members of the Physics Community." Additional research findings and context for physics major identity development were presented in a poster titled "Peer Influence on Student Physics Learning: in Class and Beyond." Li also co-organized a session titled "Insights and Benefits from Framing a Class as a Discourse Community" which was well attended. Dr. Loverude presented findings about ways in which students make sense of entropy in a talk titled "Student Connections Between Multiplicity and Macroscopic Entropy." Additionally, Loverude was an invited speaker in a session on physics preparation for preservice elementary teachers; his talk was titled "An Inquiry-based Course in Chemistry and Physics for Pre-service Teachers."

TUES conference

Michael Loverude was one of about five hundred PIs invited to the 2013 CCLI / TUES conference hosted by the NSF and AAAS in Washington, DC, January 23 to 25, 2013. The NSF's TUES program (Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM) funds research and curriculum development projects focused on undergraduate science, math, and engineering education. Loverude and his Collaborating PI John Thompson (University of Maine) presented posters on their current grant: "Collaborative Project: Teaching and Learning of Thermal Physics."


Over the break, Jocelyn Read visited colleagues at the University of Milwaukee Wisconsin to discuss ways to model the dynamics of two neutron stars colliding. She also participated in a NASA Center for Astronomy Education workshop, "Improving the College Introductory Astronomy and Space Science Course Through Active Engagement: A Tier I Teaching Excellence Workshop," an intensive 2-day course in Long Beach held in conjunction with the 221st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Over the break, Geoffrey Lovelace spent a couple of days visiting his research collaborators at Cornell. They spent some time catching up on code maintenance, implementing an improved version of part of the Spectral Einstein Code that Geoffrey had helped to write as a postdoc there. In particular, they improved code that measures the spin and shape of black hole horizons during our simulations. Besides cleaning up the new version to make it more easily maintained and extended, the new version also shares its results with other parts of the code and simplifies its output format.

Josh Smith visited the LIGO Livingston Observatory January 14-24 and worked together with LSU PhD student Anamaria Effler on installing environmental sensors around the observatory. These magnetometers, accelerometers, and microphones will be used to monitor the electromagnetic, seismic, and acoustic noise at the site. Josh also visited the LSU campus and former CSUF student Thomas Abbott who is fresh off completing his first semester as a physics PhD student in Prof Gabriela Gonzalez' gravitational-wave group.

Star Party at Raymond Elementary School

Shovit Bhari, Jocelyn Read, and Josh Smith helped host a star gazing event the evening of Jan 30 with Dave Bowman's sons and their Cub Scout troop for Raymond Elementary School in Fullerton. The department provided several larger telescopes for spectacular views of Jupiter, Orion and Crab Nebulas, Pleiades, Andromeda, and Uranus, and at the end a rising Moon. Some 250 kids and their families attended.

American Institute of Physics rankings

The American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center has recently ranked the physics department 6th out of 63 master's-granting departments awarding more than seven BS degrees per year from 2008 to 2010, tied with San Francisco State and ahead of CSU Fresno and CSU Long Beach but both in the top 10. We averaged nine degrees in that period.

Physics FTES has reached an all-time high of 314 the first week of spring semester. This is mostly due to increased enrollments in our life-science introductory physics sequence but also to larger recent numbers of engineering majors enrolling in our calculus-based introductory sequence. The department has worked over the past two years to roughly double our introductory laboratory capacity with the dean's support and thereby help eliminate scheduling bottlenecks. We have also seen a record increase in majors over the last two years compared to the past decade. See the plot below based on data from Ed Sullivan. Unfortunately, we have only 15% woman majors compared to more than 50% across the college, although our URM growth has been relatively strong.