No Spring Students – Plenty of Work

An overview of the structure of DNA.
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DUML spring semester has just begun and unfortunately we have no takers for Physics 54.  As disappointing as this is, I plan to take this opportunity to work on revamping some of the labs we do for the Physics 53 and 54 sequence.  The guiding principles are:

  • Keep the “activity-based”, Socratic flavor for the labs
  • Include more open-ended activities — less “cookbook”
  • Include marine biophysics content when possible
  • Include technology tools which facilitate “paperless” labs
  • Encourage broader publishing of results — both student reports and analysis of lab effectiveness

Of course, any changes will need a blessing from the Duke physics department, which holds rather high standards.  Ideas I am currently ready to pursue and explore/develop include:

  • X-ray diffraction and Crystallography – collaboration with Dave Richardson and Karen Magnus, et al.
  • Crab Claw Forces — collaboration with Dan Rittschof
  • Synthetic Barnacle Glue adhesive strength — more with Rittschof
  • Fluids and transport mechanics – collaboration with Jim Hench
  • Underwater acoustics – collaboration with Douglas Nowacek
  • Control circuit designs and robotics — collaboration with Tom Walbert

One of my personal goals ties in nicely to this DUML physics effort, namely pursuing a doctorate in Physics Education Research through NC State.  I believe that presenting the Physics 53 and 54 sequence with an enhanced biology/biophysics laboratory component will provide for a more engaging experience for our DUML students.  The majority of the physics student population at the Marine Lab consist of pre-med biology majors, and while feedback and student course assessments have been positive, a fall semester pilot test of the crab claw force lab got rave reviews, so I have evidence that the course can only improve with some new physics labs and demos which take advantage of our location.  Duke Marine Lab is in a beautiful location and I know I can do a  better job I can do of taking advantage of  local resources.

Consider the following comment from The Basic Science Medical Education Dilemma blog [linked below]

The proposition that animates my own work is that a more effective curriculum at the earlier stage would prepare entering students significantly better for the challenges of understanding and retention they face in medical school, by which I mean the education they receive at the fundamental level of physics, chemistry, organic chemistry and biology. Medical school would be more vivid if students learned the fundamental physical and biological sciences within a combined curriculum that builds on itself, not within disconnected modular courses. How can a person understand free energy change in chemistry without mechanics, electrodynamics, and thermodynamics from physics? How can you understand oxidative metabolism without oxidation reduction? Being a person who has worked very closely with many small groups of premedical students, taking them through the basic sciences in review more times than I want to admit, I’m burdened with knowing how little conceptual fluency entering medical students actually possess after their undergraduate years that would help them unify the enormous encyclopedia already in their heads, let alone what is coming in medical school.

I hope to make some small contribution to enhancing physics education and in particular to enhancing physics education at DUML for our life science majors and pre-meds.  Time for me to get busy.  Item number one on the agenda is making a final decision on the X-ray crystallography lab.  I’ll post more details about this in the near future.

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