In February 2000 the University issued a call to the faculty asking for creative ideas to improve academic programs. The physics department answered the challenge and is now part of two new centers funded by the President's Initiatives to Improve Teaching, Research and Service, which will distribute $40 million to efforts aimed at strengthening UT's academic foundation. Of the more than 60 proposals submitted, only 15 were funded, including $250,000 for a new program in chemical physics and another $250,000 for a center of excellence in advanced educational technology.
Science at the BordersThe chemical physics program is designed to "provide opportunities for graduate students to work between the boundaries of physics and chemistry," said Dr. Janice Musfeldt, assistant professor of chemistry and co-director of program. Along with co-director Dr. Robert Compton (professor of chemistry and physics), she oversees this venture, designed to attract top graduate students with a competitive fellowship and a dynamic program incorporating interesting science and professional development. "We define chemical physics very broadly," Dr. Musfeldt said, as "the area of problems at the interface between chemistry and physics." UT's program is an interdisciplinary effort that pulls together everything from fullerenes to nanomaterials and integrates venues from academic research to the industrial sector. The founding faculty members include seven chemists and six UT physicists (Dr. Ted Barnes, Dr. Compton, Dr. Lloyd Davis of the UT Space Institute, Dr. Jon Levin, and Dr. Joe Macek). Dr. Musfeldt counts the expertise of University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers among the program's advantages. "We genuinely want this program to do well," she said, and "the interest and enthusiasm of the faculty will make it successful." Students who join the chemical physics program take additional coursework beyond physics or chemistry degrees and are encouraged to put together a committee of both chemists and physicists. Students are typically from the core departments of chemistry and physics, although other departments are represented as well. Dr. Compton explained that students in the chemical physics program "will receive a broad education that will prepare them to solve real world problems" in areas including the environment, computational methods applied to physical and biological matter, polymers, atomic and molecular physics, and fundamental aspects of materials science. "A well trained chemical physicist is attractive to a wide range of possible sources of employment including educational institutions, applied physics laboratories and technical businesses," he said. To capture the attention of top prospects, the program offers $5000 Chemical Physics Fellowships for outstanding entering graduate students. Up to $500 in travel funding is available for graduate students and post-docs to encourage professional participation. The program also sponsors a series of workshops entitled, "Frontiers in Chemical Physics," the first of which is scheduled for February 7 and 8, 2002. Speakers include Michael Duncan (University of Georgia), Naresh Dalal (Florida State University), Laurence Barron (University of Glasgow), and Richard Klemm (Dresden). From more information about this program, visit the UT Chemical Physics Program Web site at: http://www.chem.utk.edu/cp.html
Developing Next Generation TechnologiesThe Center of Excellence in Advanced Educational Technology draws on talent from several departments, including physics, to aggressively pursue and develop next generation technology for education. Physics Professor Michael Guidry explained that "it was a good time to pull together all the threads of educational technology" on campus and develop a comprehensive approach to propel UT forward in meshing hardware and software with education goals. He and fellow Physics Professor Marianne Breinig are working with faculty in education, nuclear engineering, botany, math, art and geology to develop and implement second and third generation educational technologies, training undergraduate and graduate students in the process. Dr. Guidry, whose group delivered the Online Journey through Astronomy project, said second generation technologies will include "really advanced interactive textbooks" while the third generation, though still largely uncharted, will involve "not only interaction but interaction that learns from the student and therefore tailors the response." Like Dr. Guidry, other involved faculty members have already developed ways to use technology to further education. Dr. Breinig has created an on online, lab-based course in introductory physics. Mathematics Professor Lawrence Husch has developed a Web presence called Visual Calculus for his freshman calculus sequence. The new center has $10,000 for equipment and $60,000 for graduate student support per year. The center funds two full-time graduate-student internships and plans to add two more. The center's fresh perspectives on education will provide a tremendous advantage to students who want a dynamic learning environment. "You have to have self motivation," Dr. Guidry said, but for the self-starters, "this approach to learning is better because it engages the students." Web Sites for More Information:
Advanced Educational Technology Web Site:
Online Journey through Astronomy:
Dr. Breinig's Web-Based Introduction to Physics:
Cross Sections, Fall/Winter 2001 Issue, Contents Page UT Physics News & Notes Page UT Physics Home Page
This page was last updated on December 21, 2001.
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