"The Physics of Contemporary Challenges" is a 10-week course (30 one-hour meeting times) designed to serve as bridge from college-level introductory physics to the upper-division Paradigms in Physics curriculum. The course helps students apply their new and existing physics knowledge to contemporary challenges. Some new physics topics are introduced in the course, including quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and nuclear physics.

Beyond new physics topics, the course emphasizes physical reasoning skills such as estimating the order of magnitude of physical phenomena, and identifying fundamental limits on physical processes. These reasoning skills are applied to challenges such as power generation, energy efficiency, space exploration and climate change. The interwoven narrative of physics and real-world challenges is designed to give students experience applying physics to the world around them. The course learning outcomes are also designed to give students key skills required to succeed in upper-division physics classes.

The course was developed by OSU physics professor Ethan Minot (Ethan.Minot@oregonstate.edu), in collaboration with professors David Roundy, Liz Gire and Corinne Manogue. The course was first taught 2017. We have received positive feedback from students, and seen a growth in physics majors.

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Many of the in-class activities are done in collaborative small groups. Instructors should be thoughtful about how students interact with each other within these groups. Here are some expert tips: