Thursday, April 13, 2000
Advisory Committee Meeting, National Science Foundation, Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (Arlington, VA)
Mention the word ""physics"" to the average high-school student and you are not likely to see many happy faces. Public opinion of science in general--and physics in particular--is not high. More importantly, misunderstandings about the goals and procedures of physics are rampant. In part, these problems arise because physics education has focused nearly exclusively on generating a steady supply of future physicists. The need to educate non-majors, let alone the public at large, has generally not been perceived as an important mission of physics departments. Now that the need for physics is no longer mainly driven by political needs, this narrow educational goal threatens to adversely affect the future of the field. As we enter the twentyfirst century it is therefore crucial that we not only focus on advancing the field, but also on advancing the public's knowledge and understanding of the field.