Physics in the real world
Connecting physics education with innovation and entrepreneurship is an important factor for physics students, most of whom end up pursuing careers in industry. The PIPELINE Network’s newly published resources will provide universities with the materials to do just that, as Tushna Commissariat explains
Future forward The hi-tech Hyperloop transport system is used to introduce students to innovation and entrepreneurship concepts.
l o o p O n e i n H y p e r i r g
Physics students can bridge scientific disciplines with an understanding of the general principles governing the universe. Early on, they also learn to harness the powerful machinery of mathematics to tackle complex tasks in a systematic way. But what is often missing in their education is a way to help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset, so that they can work innovatively on real-world problems and solutions, that address human needs. Such practical skills are especially necessary today, as more than 90% of current undergraduate physics students will pursue career paths outside of academia, ending up in industry and the private sector.
“It is widely understood in the physics-education community that career preparation is an essential—and in many instances, missing—component of physics students’ experiences while earning their degrees,” says Crystal Bailey, head of career programs at the American Physical Society (APS). Indeed, Bailey and many others involved in physics training today insist that innovation and entrepreneurship must become key components of the curriculum, especially if the field wants to attract a larger and more diverse body of students.
“I believe recruitment of talented physics majors requires broadening the perspective on how physics topics are introduced—and this is best achieved when the social impact of physics is incorporated into what we teach,” says Bahram Roughani, associate dean of natural and applied sciences at Loyola University of Maryland. “For example, recruitment efforts of thriving STEM disciplines such as biology or engineering benefit from the perception regarding their value in improving life through medicine, health, environment, and consumer products,” he adds. Entrepreneurial network To foster such an entrepreneurial mindset in students from as early as the undergraduate level, and to help them develop the necessary 21st century skillset, the APS launched the PIPELINE project in 2016. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program brought together seven institutions across the US—the University of Colorado Denver, George Washington University, Loyola University of Maryland, Rochester Institute of Technology, William and Mary University, Wright State University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute—to form the PIPELINE Network. Its main aim was to develop new curricular and co-curricular approaches to physics innovation and entrepreneurship (PIE) education to fully integrate and recontextualize the physics that students are learning, so that they can tackle real-world problems.
PIPELINE projects were specifically designed to address several crucial skill gaps that were identified by the Phys21: Preparing Students for 21st-Century Careers report, which was put together in 2016 by the APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). The report highlighted communication skills, scientific and technical skills, physics-specific knowledge, and workplace relevant skills as the four main areas where students could use further help and training. The various PIPELINE projects also show students how the scientific concepts they learn in the classroom can have a real impact on people and society.
According to Bailey, research on
APS Careers 2020 in partnership with Physics World