ICPE LogoInternational Newsletter on Physics Education

International Commission on Physics Education

International Union of Pure and Applied Physics

Number 35, November 1997

Not to Commemorate, But to Remember:
10 Years Since the Goiania Nuclear Accident

Arden Zylbersztajn, Federal University of
Santa Catarina, Brazil

Mike Watts, Roehampton Institute, London

On 13 September 1987 two junk collectors broke into an abandoned building in Goiana, a city of some one million inhabitants and about 200 km from the capital of Brazil. The building had been home to a private radiation clinic and was left unattended when closed down. There they found a disused gamma-ray radiotherapy unit that was abandoned by the owners, removed the lead head of the machine, and took it home. From inside they extracted a metal capsule containing some 20 g of caesium chloride. The capsule was forced open and they released the powdered compound of highly radioactive Caesium-137. The activity of the material was about 1400 curies when the accident happened (1).

Most of the radioactive material was spilt over an old rug under two mango trees and the lead box, containing the rest of the caesium, was sold to the owner of a nearby junk yard. The luminescent blue powder, which glowed in the dark, attracted the attention of relatives and friends. It was manipulated and rubbed into the body by several people, including children. These people were contaminated and exposed to intense radiation doses, and they also contaminated the local environment which then irradiated and/or contaminated others.

The first symptoms of radiation poisoning (nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhoea) were felt shortly by those who had the greater contact with the radioactive material. They sought help in local pharmacies and hospitals and were treated as victims of some infectious-contagious disease (not surprisingly, because patients all came from the same families and locality).

Finally, on 29 September, one day after the wife of the junkyard owner and one of the employees took a part of the equipment to the city sanitation department, the radiation was identified. The Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission was informed and a group of specialists, including doctors, was sent to Goiania the next day. Once the real problem was identified, the first measures were taken by the authorities: the evacuation and isolation of the contaminated area and removal of contaminated people to a football stadium, where they were lodged in canvas tents.

Given that cancer and genetic effects can appear many years after exposure to nuclear radiation, it is impossible to make a precise count of the number of victims. No less difficult is any assessment of the psychological damage done to those most directly affected by the accident. What is known is that from 30 September to 22 December 1987, 111,800 people were tested in the facilities improvised at the football stadium and 249 were found to be contaminated, either internally or externally. Of these, 129 had body contamination and 49 needed hospitalisation (21 needed intensive care). In spite of the medical measures taken (the external and internal decontamination of the victims and the treatment of wounds) five people who were directly exposed to the caesium died (four soon after the event) and one had a limb amputated. Six hundred people are still being monitored medically.

An inquiry held by the public ministry of the state of Goias concluded in 1994 and reported that the Brazilian Commission for Nuclear Energy, the federal government, the state of Goias and the city council of Goiania should be held responsible for the accident, having failed in their legal duty to inspect the closed clinic. Four medical doctors, the owners of the clinic, and one physicist, their employee, were also considered responsible. The junk collectors were acquitted.

Because of its tragic consequences the Goiania accident became known worldwide, although it is not the first of such accidents. Four years earlier, a therapy unit containing a sample of Cobalt-60 (400 curies of activity) found its way into a scrap yard in the Mexican city of Juarez. The cobalt pellets, together with other scrap metal ended up in two iron foundries and were recycled into various items (2).

This accident was only detected when a truck carrying reinforced steel activated an automatic alarm while making a delivery to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US state of New Mexico. The investigation that followed pointed to Juarez and showed that it was a radioactive accident of significant proportions. Four Mexican workers in the scrap yard received very large doses over their entire bodies and two others were severely burned on the hands and feet due to localised doses. No deaths directly associated with the exposure were reported but delayed genetic and somatic effects in some people cannot be ruled out. The Juarez accident received much less publicity than its Goianian counterpart. It is open to speculation whether widespread knowledge of the former could have influenced the prevention of the latter.

The question raised here is quite what might be meant by 'widespread knowledge'. Undoubtedly, higher standards of general education and scientific literacy could be beneficial to the general public. This has been called 'science-in-general' (3) and, in terms of radiation and radioactivity, might involve some appreciation of the nature of background radiation, of the possible dangers involved where radioactive materials are concentrated and recognition, for example, of hazard warning signs. The term 'science-in-particular' has been used to focus attention on the knowledge required for specific purposes and recent developments in schools (4) have attempted to use particularly poigniant and dramatic events (like the Goiania story) to engage learners with real-life science. Too often school science is abstract and distanced from everyday occurances resulting, too often, in disengagement and such measures are attempts to redress the balance.

As far as specialists are concerned, their education should aim to develop both technical competence and social responsibility. The perplexing question by the mother of the contaminated junkyard owner in Goiania is a sign that the two do not always come togther:

I didn't even know that such a thing as radiation existed. I would like someone to explain to me how a doctor, a learned person, a serious inspector, could leave such dangerous pieces in a completely abandoned house.


(1) The most valuable source of information about the Goiania accident was the report "Atuos de Goiania" published as a supplement to Cience Hoje, 7(40), March 1988. This journal is published by the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).

(2) The Juarez accident is described in 'PLON Ionising Radiation', translated and printed by Monash University, Melbourne, Australia from the original Dutch edition. It is also briefly mentioned in Caufield, C. (1989). Multiple exposure: Chronicles of the radiation age. London: Penguin.

(3) 'Science-in-general' and 'science-in-particular' are expressions used in discussions of the public understanding of science. For example, a discussion of this kind concerning the general (lay) understanding of radiation and radioactivity can be found in Alsop, S.J. and Watts, D.M. (in press) 'Sources from a Somerset village: Informal learning about radiation and radioactivity' to be published in the journal Science Education.

(4) Classroom strategies of the kind discussed here are illustrated through an approach called Event-Centered-Learning, described more fully in Watts, D.M., Alsop, S., Zylbersztajn, A. and Da Silva, S. (1997). 'Event-Centered-Learning: An approach to teaching science technology and societal issues in two countries', International Journal of Science Education, 19(3), 341-351.

George Marx Wins the Medal of the ICPE

E. Leonard Jossem, Ohio State University, USA

In a ceremony at the summer 1997 ICPE meeting in Budapest, Hungary, George Marx was awarded the Medal of the International Commission on Physics Education. Dr. Marx earned the award for major contributions to international physics education extending over the past thirty years.

George Marx receiving the IUPAP-ICPE Medal from ICPE Chairman Paul Black at the August 1997 meeting in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Leonard Jossem)

Dr. Marx received his Ph.D. in Physics from Eötvös University, Hungary, in 1950 and was awarded the Kossuth Prize in Hungary for his work in theoretical elementary particle physics. From 1970 to 1992 he served as Chairman of the Department of Atomic Physics at Eötvös University. He has been active in Hungary in promoting physics education in the high schools and colleges of that country, and in Hungary's participation in the International Physics Olympiads. He is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the International Academy of Astronautics, the Academia Europa, and the New York Academy of Sciences.

He is an Honorary Professor of the University of Vienna, and has been a visiting professor at other universities including Stanford, Union College, Mexico City, Lahore, Kyoto, and Nanjing. Among the honors he has received are the Comenius gold medal, Comenius University, Bratislava 1996, and the medal of Simon Bolivar University, Caracas, 1996.

He is the author or editor of many books and conference proceedings in physics education, among which are: Momentum in the School (1976), Quantum Mechanics in the School (1981), Entropy in the School (1983), Microscience: The Use of Microcomputers in Science Education (with Paul Szucs, 1985), Teaching Non-linear Phenomena at Schools and Universities (1987), Energy Alternatives/Risk Education (1989), Educating for an Unknown Future (1991) and Environmental Issues - Rio Follow-Up (1994). Some of his text books have also been published in Czech, Chinese, English, Finnish, Russian and Slovakian.

He has been active in the organizing and teaching Computer Workshops in Africa under the auspices of the ICTP (Trieste).

Geroge Marx has served the international physics education community in many ways: As a member of ICPE in 1975-1978 and in 1978-1981, as Vice-Chair in 1987-1990, and again in 1990-1993, and as Editor of the ICPE Newsletter, 1988-1994. He also served as a Vice-president of IUPAP, 1993-1996. He has had a long involvement with GIREP, serving as its President in 1992-1995.

George Marx is well known in countries around the world-in Europe, the Americas, China, Japan, India, and other Asian and African countries-for his stimulating lectures and friendly assistance and encouragement.

Throughout his long career, Professor Marx has devoted himself to advancing the cause of science and physics education. Both in his research work in physics and in his work as a teacher, an author, and an editor he has made seminal contributions to the literature. He has catalyzed the organiztion of numerous international conferences and projects in physics education. Always, and in all ways, George Marx has been a trusted advisor and a highly valued friend of physics teachers the world around, and through his continuing and tireless efforts on their behalf has earned their deepest respect, affection and gratitude.

Notes on Nominations for the IUPAP-ICPE Medal
for Physics Education.

The Medal of the IUPAP-ICPE, established to recognize excellence in contributions to international physics education, is one of the oldest of the awards for excellence given under the auspices of IUPAP. The standards for the award are set high and the award is given only on occasion. The criteria established for the award of the IUPAP-ICPE Medal for Physics Education are as follows:

(1) The contributions to physics education should have extended over a considerable number of years, and

(2) The contributions should be international in their scope and influence.

ICPE invites members of the international physics community to make nominations for the Medal. Nominations will be reviewed by the ICPE Commissioners and it is important that as much detailed information as possible be provided for their consideration. To nominate someone, there is a form on the ICPE web page (www.physics.umd.edu/icpe/) that can be printed out and sent or send a letter that provides evidence that the activities and accomplishments of the nominee meet the criteria established for the award. Please also attach biographical or other pertinent information about the nominee. The completed form and any additional materials should be sent to the Chairman of the ICPE. It is also helpful if a nomination is supported by persons from several countries.

List of persons who have received the Medal of the International Commission on Physics Education

1980 Eric Rogers

1981 P. Kapitza

1983 J.R. Zacharias

1985 Victor F.Weisskopf

1987 John Logan Lewis

1991 International Physics Olympiad

1992 Nahum Joel

1995 E. Leonard Jossem

1997 George Marx

The 28th International Physics Olympiad
in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Dwight E. Neuenschwander, Academic Director,
US Physics Team

Two hundred and sixty-six students from 56 nations gathered in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, July 13-21, for the 28th International Physics Olympiad (IPhO). The host institutions were Laurentian University and that jewel among science museums, Science North of Sudbury.

Sudbury sits in the heart of the Canadian Shield, a vast region of lakes and forests and two-billion-year-old rock outcrops. Long ago a large meteorite slammed into the Canadian Shield, creating the Sudbury Valley, and producing some of the richest deposits of nickel and copper on Earth. Ontario's geography and livelihood have been shaped by the past. With the metals producer Inco Ltd. as principal sponsor of IPhO '97, bounty from the past has been invested in the future.

The opening ceremonies were a celebration of youth. The names of the 56 participating nations were read in English and French as the students filed in to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, performed by the national-award-winning jazz band of Lasalle Secondary School. Special music was also provided by Jacinthe Trudeau, champion youth fiddler of Canada. The 19-year-old held the audience spellbound with her vigorous renditions of Irish ballads, waltzes and reels, and the incredible "Orange Blossom Special" that eerily imitates the sound of a railway train!

The competition was officially opened by Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette, now training at NASA for a Shuttle flight. She articulated the IPhO spirit: "...We're all in this together. Work together, build partnerships. The future is in our collective hands."

As part of the olympiad, the participants made several excursions to places of interest in the area. These visits included touring the Inco ore processing plants and the Big Nickel Mine; spending time with the interactive displays in Science North; a cruise on beautiful Lake Ramsey; an Ojibwa pow-wow; and model rocket launches. Sudbury is home to a major neutrino telescope, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), located 2 km below the Earth's surface in Inco's Creighton Mine. The students and coaches were treated to a detailed presentation about SNO by Art McDonald, the Project Director.

The beauty of the Olympiad is using physics to bring people together. In a warm sense of community, Sudbury residents became personally involved. Besides Inco's sponsorship and heavy coverage in the local media, some 200 local volunteers came forward to help as guides and workers. Local businesses, government, and utilities went to unusual lengths to welcome the IPhO participants and assist the organizers. At a personal level, the local Rotary Club hosted a luncheon for the coaches and observers on Tuesday; and on Wednesday, all the students had dinner in the homes of local families, and then spent the evening with them.

Friendships were forged through the long days of meetings and examinations, and the sleepless nights of translating and grading. Again this year there was a talent show after the closing banquet, which reveals the strength of that forging. Highlights this year included two students from the Netherlands performing on flutes their own arrangement of Holland's national anthem, then merging it into O Canada; and the teams from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, and Singapore performing together. With arms around one another, they sang a Chinese ballad expressing love for their homeland.

The Finns performed Russian folk songs in Finnish; Polish-speaking students from half a dozen countries regaled us in song; we had the huka dance from New Zealand, and a flutist from Macedonia playing J.S.

Bach while a juggler from Bulgaria performed in time to the music. In all, I counted 22 performances, not including the Karaoke or the slide show.

The finale came with the Canadian students, leaders, and volunteers singing O Canada. Rising to their feet, everyone joined them in a spontaneous expression of respect and togetherness. We were, indeed,

all in this together.

On that final night, no one wanted to leave. Finally, when the chartered buses could be kept waiting no longer, the songs in many languages continued in the soft glow of interior lights as we motored through Sudbury back to the university. Most students were up all night in their dorms, making the moment last.

The next morning, students from around the world clasped hands in farewell. The future is, indeed, in their clasped, collective hands. As the teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe observed, to teach is to touch the future. Through the IPhO we help shape the future by bringing together from many nations the students who will live it.

1997 Physics Olympics Problems

Problem 1: Scaling

(a) A small mass hangs on the end of a massless ideal spring and oscillates up and down at its natural frequency f. If the spring is cut in half and the mass reattached at the end, what is the new frequency f '?

(b) The radius of a hydrogen atom in its ground state is ao= 0.0529 nm (the "Bohr radius"). What is the radius a' of a "muonic-hydrogen" atom in which the electron is replaced by an identically charged muon, with mass 207 times that of the electron? Assume the proton mass is much larger than that of the muon and electron.

(c) The mean surface temperature of the earth is
T= 287 K. What would the new mean temperature T' be if the mean distance between the earth and the sun was reduced by 1%?

(d) On a given day, the air is dry and has a density
r = 1.2500 kg/m3. The next day the humidity has increased and the air is 2% by mass water vapour. The pressure and temperature are the same as the day before. What is the air density r' now?

Mean molecular weight of dry air: 28.8 gm/mole

Molecular weight of water: 18 gm/mole

Assume ideal-gas behaviour

(e) A type of helicopter can hover if the mechanical power output of its engine is P. If another helicopter is made which is an exact 1/2-scale replica (in all linear dimensions) of the first, what mechanical power P' is required for it to hover?

Problem 2: Nuclear Masses and Stability

All energies in this question are expressed in MeV - millions of electron volts. One MeV = 1.6 x 10-13 J, but it is not necessary to know this to solve the problem.

The mass M of an atomic nucleus with Z protons and N neutrons (i.e. the mass number A = N + Z) is the sum of masses of the free constituent nucleons (protons and neutrons) minus the binding energy B.

Mc2 = Zmpc2 + Nmnc2 - B

The stability of a nucleus is determined by the binding energy divided by the number of nucleons (B/A); the greater this quantity is, in general, the more stable the nucleus. A graph shown below plots the maximum value of B/A for a given value of A, vs. A.

(a) Above a certain mass number Aa, nuclei are unstable; their binding energy is small enough to allow the emission of alpha-particles (A = 4). Use a linear approximation to this curve above A = 100 to estimate Aa.

For this model, assume the following:

(b) The binding energy of an atomic nucleus with Z protons and N neutrons (A = N + Z) is given by a semi-empirical formula:

The value of d is given by:

+ apA-3/4 for odd-N/odd-Z nuclei

0 for even-N/odd-Z or odd-N/even-Z nuclei

- apA-3/4 for even-N/even-Z nuclei

The values of the coefficients are:

av = 15.8 MeV; as = 16.8 MeV; ac = 0.72 MeV;
aa = 23.5 MeV; ap = 33.5 MeV.

(i) Derive an expression for the proton number Zmax of the nucleus with the largest binding energy for a given mass number A. Ignore the d-term for this part only.

(ii) What is the value of Z for the most stable A = 200 nucleus? Include the effect of the d-term.

  1. Consider the five nuclei with A = 128 listed in the table on the answer sheet. Determine which ones are energetically stable and which ones have sufficient energy to decay by the processes listed below. Determine Zmax as defined in part (i) and fill out the table on your answer sheet.

In filling out the table, please:

Decay processes:

(1) b-- decay; emission from the nucleus of an electron

(2) b+- decay; emission from the nucleus of a positron

(3) b-b- - decay; emission from the nucleus of two electrons simultaneously

(4) Electron capture; capture of an atomic electron by the nucleus.

The rest mass energy of an electron (and positron) is
mec2 = 0.51 MeV; that of a proton is mpc2 = 938.27 MeV; that of a neutron is mnc2 = 939.57 MeV.

Problem 3 Solar Powered Aircraft

We wish to design an aircraft which will stay aloft using solar power alone. The most efficient type of layout is with a wing whose top surface is completely covered in solar cells. The cells supply electrical power with which the motor drives the propeller.

Consider a wing of rectangular plan-form with span l, chord (width) c; the projected wing area is S = cl, and the wing aspect ratio A = l / c. We can get an approximate idea of the wing's performance by considering a slice of air of height x and length l being deflected downward at a small angle e with only a very small change in speed. Control surfaces on the wing can be used to select an optimal value of e for flight. This simple model corresponds closely to reality if x = p l / 4, and we can assume this to be the case. The total mass of the aircraft is M and it flies with velocity v relative to the surrounding air. In the following calculations consider only the air flow around the wing.

Top view of aircract (in its own frame of reference)

(a) Consider the change in momentum of the air passing over the wing, with no change in speed while it does so. Derive expressions for the vertical lift force L and the horizontal drag force D1 on the wing in terms of wing dimensions v, e, and the air density r. Assume the direction of air flow is always parallel to the plane of the diagram.

(b) There is additional drag force D2 caused by the friction of air flowing over the surface of the wing. the air slows slightly, with a change of speed Dv (<<1% of v) given by:

The value of f is independent of e.

Find an expression (interms of M, f, A, S, r and g - the acceleration due to gravity) for the flight speed v0 corresponding to a minimum power being needed to maintain this aircraft in flight at constant altitude and velocity.

You may find the following approximation useful:

(c) On the answer sheet, complete the graph of power P versus flight speed v. Find an expression (interms of M, f, A, S, r and g) for the minimum power, Pmin. Show the separate contributions from the two sources of drag.

(d) If the solar cells can supply sufficient energy so that the electric motors and propellers generate mechanical power of I = 10 watts per square meter of wing area, calculate the wing loading Mg/S (N/m2) and flight speed vo (m/s). Assume r = 1.25 kg/m3, f = 0.004, A = 10.

Experimental Problem:

Characterization of the Bimorph

The bimorph consists of two layers of piezoelectric material bonded together. Metal electrodes have been evaporated onto the two outer surfaces to allow the application of an electric field (see figure). The layers are chosen in such a way that when an electric field is perpendicular to the outer surfaces, one of them expands (along L). Reversing the field reverses the effect on the layers: the one which previously contracted expands while the other one contracts. Assume that upon the application of the field the bimorph bends into a circular arc.

Note: Piezoelectric materials change their dimensions while in an electric field, and they produce an electric potential when under mechanical strain. The relative change of a given dimension in the electric field is, in the first approximation, proportional to the field; there is however some hysteresis which means that if one applies the field and then reduces it back to zero the dimensions will not return to exactly the original values. One has to apply some small field in the opposite direction to restore the dimensions to the original value. The force expanding or contracting the piezoelectric material is, in the first approximation, proportional to the field.


1. Determine the dependence of the displacement of the bimorph's free end as a function of the applied voltage in the range from +36V down to -36V and back up to +36V. During these measurements, change the voltage only in the indicated direction (for example, when you measure in the range from -36V to +36V always increase the voltage and never decrease it; if you miss a point, skip it). Demonstrate this dependence with a graph.

During one cycle of applied voltage from +36V to -36V and back to +36V a certain amount of energy is dissipated in the bimorph itself Identify and calculate a quantity which is proportional to this amount of energy.

2. For a given bimorph, if the hysteresis is neglected, the displacement of the bimorph's free end is given by the formula d = AVmIn where V is the applied voltage, I the length of the bimorph's free end (measured from the edge of the contacts in the holder see Figure) and m, n and A are constants. Find, by performing the necessary measurements and calculations, the constants m, n and A.

3. Measure the capacitance of the bimorph.

Warning: Do not look directly into the laser beam or into the laser beam reflected from the mirror - it may damage your vision.

Part I

1.1 Draw a diagram of the circuit you used to determine the displacement of the free end of the bimorph versus voltage.

1.2 Draw a schematic diagram showing the geometry of the setup and label all the relavant quantities.

1.3 Give the formula relating the displacement of the bimorph's free end to the measured quantities. Enter the formula here with all the variables explained, referring to the diagram in 1.2 [on page 5] and enter the number of the page containing the derivation of this formula.

1.4 Demonstrate the dependence of the free end of the bimorph on voltage on the graph paper provided. Indicate which points correspond to measurements made while increasing voltage and those made while decreasing voltage. Remember to label the axes including the values and units. Write down the number of the graph.

1.5 Identify a quantity proportional to the energy dissipated in the bimorph.

1.6 Enter here the value of the quanitity proportional to the energy dissipated in the bimorph, its error and units.

Part II

2.1 Enter here the value for m. Enter the number of the pages containing data tables, graphs and calculations used to determine this value.

2.2 Enter here the value for n with error. Enter the numbers of the pages containing data tables, graphs and caculations used to determine this value.

2.3 Enter here the value of the constant A, its error and units.

Part III

3.1 Draw a diagram of the circuit you used to measure the capacitance of the bimorph.

3.2 Write down the quantities you measured and the formula you used to obtain the capacitance of the bimorph. Write down the numbers of the pages containing the diagrams, graphs and data tables.

Physics Education Conferences

IUPAP Sponsored:

Hands-on Experiments in Physics Education

23 - 28 August 1998

Duisburg, Germany

It is the goal of the conference to present hands-on experiments in various categories as well as to show how these can promote the educational and learning processes and be brought into a balanced relationship with other learning aspects.

Physics toys should be regarded as closely connected to hands-on experiments. They form a natural reservoir of experiences for children-and also for adults. They come from a long tradition (tops, cartesian divers, soap bubbles, optical toys) and also present modern aspects (memory alloys, holograms, liquid crystals, modern magnets, etc.). For all levels of experience with physics there are fitting toys which can serve as motivational vehicles for further questions. In addition to hands-on experiments, the conference will also cover the meaningful inclusion of the possibilities offered through toys in the entire learning context.

Lectures and discussions by and with established experts are planned. Experimental and theoretical short lectures, posters, video presentations, workshops, exhibitions of equipment and literature complete the program.

Registration fee is US$120.

The conference language is English.


Prof. Dr. Gernot Born


FB 10/Secktion Didaktik der Physik

Lotharstr. 1

47048 Duisburg


fax: 49-203-37 91 679

email: hm379kr@uni-duisburg.de

webpage: www.uni-duisburg.de/FB10/DDPH/girep/girepeng.html

Other Conferences of Interest:

Cognitive Acceleration Convention

15-16 May 1998

Birmingham, UK

The convention provides an opportunity for information exchange among those engaged in Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) or other programs for the development of thinking, and includes workshops introducing CASE / CAME / Somerset Thinking Skills; whole school approaches to thinking; CASE and school inspection; and much much more.


Julie Burcher

email: julie.burcher@kcl.ac.uk

webpage: na-serv.did.gu.se/esera/Conf/COGACC

Practical Work in Science Education

20-23 May 1998

Copenhagen, Denmark

Registration fee: 1500 DKK


Mrs. Inga Petersen

Royal Danish School of Educational Studies

Dept of Math, Physics, Chemistry and Informatics

Emdrupvej 115B
DK-2400 Copenhagen NV. Denmark

fax: +45 3966 0083
email: inga_p @ dlh1.dlh.dk

III Physicists' Int'l Meeting in the Inka Region - 1998

15-20 June 1998

Cusco, Peru

To promote exchanges among Latin American scientists and provide an opportunity to discuss frontier topics with distinguished scientists from all around the world. The topics are open to Theoretical, Experimental Physics, Applications and Teaching of physics.


Fernando Umeres Sanchez

email: fusa@inti.unsaac.edu.pe

webpage: na-serv.did.gu.se/esera/conf/peru

Bicentennary of the Invention of the Battery by Volta Conference on the Use of History of Science
in Science Education

15-19 September 1999

Pavia, Italy

The International Group on History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science Education and the Interdivisional History of Physics Group of the European Physical Society are holding as a unified conference respectively their 4th and their 8th conferences. The two groups have been working since 1980 on ways of informing science teaching through the use of the history and philosophy of science.


Centro di Cultura Scientifica "A. Volta"-Villa Olmo

via S. Cantoni 1, 22100 Como, Italia

tel: ++39-(0)31-572213

fax: ++39-(0)31-573395

email: congress@icil64.cilea.it

webpage: www.cilea.it/volta99

Internet Sites

Compiled by Dan Campbell, Associate Editor


Science and Math Education Resources


This index was mentioned in a previous newsletter, but it has been updated and expanded. Branching out from the main index, there are hundreds of resources avialable on dozens of diverse science topics.

Great Physicists


Short biographies of important people in the development of physics and mathematics. A few links to other physics history sites.

Calculators On-Line Center


Astounding collection of links to every conceivable site that will make a calcuation for you. Everything from building constuction formulas and gambling odds to forestry and tax rates. Separate sections for chemistry, physics, engineering, and other sciences. Most are the type that you input numbers and click on the button to get a result, but some are animated applets. For you older folks, there is even an applet of a slide rule that you can manipulate on-line.

Internet Resources for Science and Mathematics


Large index of science and math education sites. It is broken down into subject. Besides the normal sciences, it has education, pages by and for K-12 schools, art & music, history (which is mostly history of science), downloadable software, etc.

Science in the Classroom

NSD Education Homepage


Emphasises nuclear physics. Links include The ABC's of Nuclear Science, which includes simple glossary of terms and 9 classroom experiments.

Physics Education Projects


University of Minnesota Physics Education group site with links to their research results. They have some very interesting cooperative-group problem solving and context-rich problems research.

Non-relativistic Motion


This applet illustrates nonrelativistic motion of a positively charged particle in a region containing constant, uniform electric and magnetic fields. Input the intial velocity, the strength and direction of the magnetic field and electric field, and click. The path of the positively charged particle is plotted.

Fourier Synthesis


This is an applet in which you select up to six values for sinusoidal and cosinusoidal oscillations. The resultant wave is then displayed on a little "oscilliscope" screen.

SkyView - The Internet's Virtual Telescope


SkyView is a Virtual Observatory on the Net.
Astronomers can generate images of any portion of the sky at wavelengths in all regimes from radio to gamma-ray. Users tell SkyView the position, scale and orientation desired, and SkyView gives users an image made to their specification. The user need not worry about transforming between equinoxes or coordinate systesm, mosaicing submaps, rotating the image, etc. SkyView handles these geometric issues and lets the user get started on astronomy.

The Ground Cyber-Laboratory


Here you can perform experiments to demonstrate in a very simple way many of the microgravity concepts that are studied aboard the space shuttle. Some experiments are designed for the classroom, but many can be done at home. Many of the experiments have animations which illustrate the principles being described.

Useful Information

Project Gutenberg


Not a science site, but still very important. Project Gutenberg is dedicated to putting public domain books on-line. They currently have well over 1000 titles, mostly 19th century fiction, but also religious, philosophical, and reference works.

A Beginner's Guide to HTML


Want to learn how to create a web site? This is the place to look. It has all the information you need to format a page and get it on the web with links, text, pictures and everything.

Book Review: Raisonner en Physique

by Laurence Viennot

Reviewer: John Ogborn, University of London,
Institute of Education

Laurence Viennot, in collaboration with her colleagues in Didactics of Physics at the University Paris VII "Denis Diderot" has written a remarkable and valuable book. It summarises and synthesises the results of more than 20 years work on the relationship between ideas in physics and the natural spontaneous ideas of students, which importantly shape their understandings. But the book does more than collect together the results of many researches. It re-assembles and re-interprets them in terms of a number of striking and important synthetic themes.

The synthesis begins with a distinction between the essential and the natural, to carefully characterise the relation between natural reasoning and reasoning in phyics. Four themes, described as tendencies of reasoning, follow, each illustrated by a range of selected research results from a number of domains. They are, first, the tendency to materialise or substantialise the abstract objects of physics - for example, rays of light. Second, the tendency to attribute intrinsic magnitudes to physical objects or events - example, the 'true' velocity of a person walking on a moving platform. Third, that laws relating physical quantities are often understood in terms of a common-sense idea of cause - example, that the force 'comes before' and causes the acceleration. With this goes the notion that 'causes' can be 'stocked', in the same way that human beings can act when they choose if they have sufficient resources. Fourth, the difficulties people have when they think of quasi-static situations, such as a current flowing round a circuit, in terms of a causal sequence. This leads Viennot (in collaboration with Rozier) to identify a general tendency to what they term 'linear causal reasoning'.

There follows a second section of the book, offering a variety of studies of the impact of common-sense reasoning. They include the effect of 'naive realism' in reasoning on thought about algebraic relations, problems with changes of reference frame, studies of understandings of wave propagation, difficulties in combining in thought linear motion and rotation, and many others. Always the perspective is fundamental: what essential aspect of reasoning in physics is at each place put at risk?

Besides being fundamental, the book is at the same time highly practical, directed at solving, not at merely describing, the problems it discusses. For example, it is shown how the results of research and analysis have been turned into practical recommendations for teaching, with citations from the work of the Groupe Technique Disciplinaire de Physique, in which Laurence Viennot participated.

Laurence Viennot writes with remarkable clarity, wit and grace. Her book avoids empty if well-sounding generalities, whilst seeking all the time to find modest, clear, testable generalisations. Its combination of a passion to understand with an equal passion to change and improve, based on a large body of careful and cautiously interpreted empirical work consistently carried through over the years, makes it a model of what good work in the didactics of physics can be like. Those who teach physics or who train others to do so will profit greatly from it. And anyone starting a career in didactics should read it to see a splendid example of a way to develop the subject. All they need more is the patience, care, thoughtfulness and imagination of Laurence Viennot and her colleagues.

Raisonner en Physique by Laurence Viennot

BRUXELLES-PARIS: De Boeck Universtité, 1996,
246 pp, in French.

New Conference Proceedings Published

Three new conference proceedings of note have been published in the last several months.

New Ways of Teaching Physics:
The 1996 GIREP-ICPE International Conference

Focuses on computers, video, networking, simulations, interactive teaching, hypertext, etc. in the classroom.

Available from:

Seta Oblak

Board of Education

Poljanska 28

1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

email: seta.oblak@guest.arnes.si

fax: +386 61 310 267

3rd European Summerschool: Theory and
Methodology of Research in Science Education

PhD students and mentors learn to enhance research in science education through workshops and small groups.

Available from:

Roser Pinto

Dep. de Didàctica de la Matemàtica

i de les Ciències Experimentals


08193 Bellaterra, Spain

email: r.pinto@cc.uab.es

The Changing Role of Physics Departments
in Modern Universities (AIP Conf. Proc. #399)

Looks at physics education from the angles of preparing physics teachers, application of modern technology, & the physics baccalaueate as a terminal degree.

Available from:

AIP Press

500 Sunnyside Blvd.

Woodbury, NY 11797-2999

email: cdoering@aip.org

fax: 516-576-2450

web page: www.aip.org/catalog/order.html

Professor Rosalind H. Driver (1941-1997)

Rosalind Driver died at her home in England on Thursday, 30 October 1997.

Rosalind Driver was one of the pre-eminent figures in science education of her generation. She was a major figure on both national and international stages who attracted considerable interest and respect from science education researchers and science teachers. Throughout her career she displayed a passion toward science education and took seriously the responsibility of trying to improve our understanding of what is involved in teaching and learning science, and what might constitute an education in science.

Her most influential work stems from her period as Director of the Children's Learning In Science Project (1982 - 1989) and the Children's Learning In Science Research Group (1990 - 1995). The CLIS Project was established to investigate reasons for the poor performance of students in science. The early work of CLIS drew upon work described in her seminal book The Pupil as Scientist? (1983, Open Univ. Press). For many teachers, this volume provided an introduction to the work of Dr. Driver. Teachers changed their perceptions of children's learning, and started to respond to children's thinking more directly in their teaching.

If we are to be judged by what we leave behind for future generations then Rosalind Driver's work in changing our understanding of what it means to teach and learn science must be regarded as a considerable and enduring contribution.

by John Leach, University of Leeds, UK