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Department of Physics
Bryn Mawr College
101 N Merion Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-2899
Phone: 610-526-5358
Fax: 610-526-7469

Peter A. Beckmann: Curricular Interests

Courses for Non-science students

I teach a course called "Physics, Evolution, and Literature: Humans Modeling Their World."  Students agree to leave as much cultural baggage at the door as possible.  We adopt the philosophy that we are mammalian bipeds wandering the planet trying to make sense of our surroundings.  Thus we build models.  The readings include Abbott's Flatland, Wells' The Country of the Blind, Borges' The Library of Babel, LeGuin's The Direction of the Road, Kafka's Metamorphosis and some of Oliver Sacks' works.  The world-wide web is used extensively as are readings from Scientific American.  We put "understanding" general relativity and quantum mechanics into the same realm as we put "understanding" Duchamps' Nude Descending a Staircase (Philadelphia Museum of Art) or Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony.  We only have one brain and we use all of it for most things we do.  Students keep weekly journals where they think and write about the material we are discussing.

Upper-level undergraduate physics

The challenge for the university physics department with a serious graduate-studies-bound-undergraduate major is to teach students how to learn.  There is a real need to introduce more many-particle quantum physics, general relativity, non-linear dynamics, field theory, string theory, etc. and to introduce more technology (computer hardware and software, learning via the world-wide web, laboratory instrumentation, computer-instrument interfacing etc.) but in a meaningful way and not for its own sake.

Graduate Education

I am committed to the philosophy that the department's small graduate program makes a huge contribution to the academic culture of the undergraduate major, to the Science Division at Bryn Mawr College, and to the college as a whole.  It is astoundingly successful at training physicists for faculty positions in liberal arts colleges.  When I develop and teach graduate courses, the upper-level undergraduate courses benefit greatly.  The graduate program has a profound affect on research and funding.



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