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Summer Physics Academy moves online due to pandemic

Twenty-five local high school teachers are participating in lectures and discussions this week

June 24, 2020
Author: Iqbal Pittalwala
June 24, 2020

The popular Summer Physics Academy held each year by the UCR Department of Physics and Astronomy for high school teachers has a different format this year.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, all lectures of the 13th Summer Physics Academy are being delivered to the 25 participating high school teachers via Zoom. Hai-Bo Yu, an associate professor of physics and astronomy; and Maria Chiara Simani, the director of the California Science Project; co-organized this year’s academy, which began this week.

“We will not have lab tours this year,” Yu said. “We do have presentations by faculty members who will show some simple tools and demonstrations that the teachers could use in their classrooms or in online teaching.” 

The goal of the annual academy is to reach out to local high school students through their teachers and encourage them to learn physics and be prepared for physics courses at the college level.

“Many teachers asked about tools that they could use to demonstrate physics concepts and principles for online teaching,” Simani said.

Nathaniel Gabor, an associate professor of physics and astronomy, gave his presentation on Monday from his home backyard, where he demonstrated two hands-on experiments. 

Nathan Gabor in backyard
Nathan Gabor in his backyard.

“If you are teaching online this fall, you can potentially do these experiments,” Gabor informed the teachers.

Gabor acknowledged some experimental materials have become hard to procure because of the pandemic. For example, “elephant’s toothpaste,” one of his demos, required hydrogen peroxide and baking yeast, both of which are in high demand. 

“It turns out this is nearly impossible to get right now,” said Gabor, pointing to a bottle of hydrogen peroxide during his lecture. “I actually went this morning to get some. I could not find it at the first two places I tried. I finally got it on my third try.”

A significant change this year is that the academy has only morning sessions.

“We felt it would be difficult to have all-day Zoom meetings for five days in a row,” Yu said. “We have tried to arrange this year’s program as comprehensive as before, while fitting to the new schedule.” 

The schedule of presentations and the list of participating high school teachers can be found here

“Physics is the gateway to engineering and computer science careers, which often have high salaries,” Yu said. “In the Inland Empire, the percent of high school students taking physics is significantly lower than the national average, which is alarming. We hope the academy will address and raise awareness of this gap and, through the teachers, engage more students, especially underrepresented minorities, in physics education.” 

The Summer Physics Academy is co-sponsored by the California Science Project and receives support from the U.S. National Science Foundation.