Gordon Research Conference on Physics Research and Education
June 11-15, 2000
at Plymouth State College

Jan Tobochnik, Kalamazoo College and Harvey Gould, Clark University, co-chairs
Beth Ann Thacker, Texas Tech University, vice-chair

This series of conferences will focus on how research in physics and research in physics education can be used to improve the teaching of physics, primarily at the undergraduate level. The first conference will emphasize the teaching of thermal and statistical physics. Special attention will be given to areas of current research and technological interest which can be included in such courses, physics and chemistry educational research on conceptual understanding of thermal physics and probability, and innovative curricular materials and approaches. The goal is to bring together workers who are active in research in thermal and statistical physics, researchers in the new field of physics education, and people who teach courses in statistical and thermal physics.

General information about the Gordon Research Conference is available. A preliminary list of the topics and scheduled speakers is given below. Some useful information is summarized below. Also check out announcements from the chairs.



Poster session. Speakers should inform us of their multimedia needs. All times for invited talks include 10 minutes for questions.

  • Wednesday, June 14

  • Thursday, June 15

  • Friday, June 16

    Poster Session

    1. Stephen Addison, University of Central Arkansas, “A method to illustrate the extensive and intensive properties of thermodynamic variables.”
    2. Martina Belz Arndt, University of New Hampshire, “The PFF program: Preparing the next generation of physics faculty.”
    3. Joel Cannon, Washington and Jefferson College, “Non-thermodynamic thermodynamics calculations: Connecting calculus knowledge to thermodynamics.”
    4. E. Roger Cowley, Rutgers University, Camden, “Undergraduate projects using computer simulations.” abstract.
    5. Charles Cunningham, Grinnell College, “Low temperature experiments for teaching statistical mechanics.”
    6. Pal Fekete, University of Sydney, “Thermal Concept Inventory.”
    7. Nicholas A. Gross, Boston University, “Lecture as Story Telling.”
    8. Ken Jolls, Iowa State University, “Visualization in classical thermodynamics.”
    9. Miron Kaufman, Cleveland State University, “Thermal and statistical physics with Mathcad.”
    10. Roy Jacobs, Imperial College, “Correlation functions for glass-forming systems,” abstract.
    11. Bruce N. Miller (in collaboration with V. Paige Youngkins), Texas Christian University, “Gravitational phase transitions in a one-dimensional spherical system,” abstract.
    12. Jonathan Mitschele, Saint Joseph's College (Maine), “Demonstrating conservation of mechanical energy where friction is involved.”
    13. Donald B. Mountcastle, University of Maine, “Are all two-state reactions the same?”
    14. Muhammad Numan, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, “Effective Interaction Through Bulletin Board in a Web-Based Thermal Physics Course.”
    15. Mark Peterson, Mt. Holyoke College, “Turbulence on a desktop.”
    16. Jay Lowell, United State Air Force Academy, “Watching ice melt: a classroom investigation of phase change.”
    17. Per Arne Rikvold (in collaboration with C. S. Soh), Florida State University, “Building 'steam engines' with LEGO.”
    18. Shubha Tewari, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “Teaching statistical mechanics with Java applets.“
    19. Rodney Varley, Hunter College, “An Ideal Gas Teaching Module and Poster Exam.“
    20. Michael Vollmer, University of Applied Sciences, Brandenburg, “Visualization of energy transfer processes and the laws of radiation for physics education.“


    1. Registrants: 95.

    2. We will try to schedule an informal activity such as a hike and a discussion topic every afternoon. Does anyone have suggestions for either?

    3. Suggestions for informal afternoon discussion groups

      • Authors of recent texts, especially Baierlein, Carter, and Schroeder, discuss the goals of their respective texts.
      • The role of the grand canonical distribution. Should the grand canonical distribution be avoided in undergraduate thermal physics?
      • Kinds of probability. Various versions of Bayesian or subjective probability appear in the scientific and social scientific literature. What should we say to physics students in general about what a probability is or means?
      • There are several articles in the December AJP issue arguing for making more microscopic arguments for the second law in the introductory course. And in the April Physics Today, there is an article by Lieb and Yngvason arguing for keeping the second law independent from microscopic justification. What is the best way(s) to introduce entropy?
      • What experiments and simulations should be included in undergraduate courses?
      • The power efficiency of heat engines --- especially the role played by the finiteness of the cycle time.

    4. Suggestions for afternoon activities:

      • Waterville Valley has many trails for day hikes plus mountain bikes and roller blades are available for rent. It is a few miles off 93. The exit is just north of Plymouth (2 exits - Campton). Along the road to Waterville, during the last half of Waterville Road, follow the Mad River. Many trails and picnic sights are marked from the road plus you can take a dip in a cool clear river. One of the markers should be for Dicke Mountain off River Road. A great afternoon hike, not too difficult. Pick blueberries at the top of the mountain with a great view of the valley.
      • There are many nice eating places in the area from pubs to fancy. In Plymouth there are a couple of good pubs with beer and deli sandwiches. There is a nice deli pub attached to a mom and pop grocery downtown. Jigger Johnson's is a good place downtown. Fancier eats - Common Man in Ashland. Swiss restaurant on the way to Waterville. You might want to get reservations for these 2. Also, several nice places in Waterville.
      • Cheesy tourist stuff. Go toward Rumney west of Plymouth on 25 to the Polar Bear Caves.
      • East of Plymouth are the Sqwam lakes.
      • There are many little towns next to Plymouth. It is worth just driving around with the idea that you plan to stop and maybe picnic or hike casually.

    5. The Boston Red Sox are playing the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday evening, June 16 at Fenway Park after the conclusion of the conference. The chairs plan to attend and will have 1-3 extra tickets. Tickets are still available and we would be happy to order more if people are interested.

    Updated 9 June 2000.