Intro Physics Labs for Life Sciences (IPL2S)

We are utilizing research from the Physics Education Research (PER) community regarding introductory physics for the life sciences (IPLS) to develop a more authentic scientific approach in the intro lab sequence for life/health-science majors at the University of Utah (PHYS 2015/2025).  We have particularly drawn on the work of Project NEXUS at the University of Maryland at College Park.  We piloted a reformed version of PHYS 2015 in the Crocker Science Center in Spring 2018, and now offer the reformed course for all students (about 350 per semester) in both PHYS 2015 and 2025.  We are now studying the impacts of these reforms on student learning, focusing initially on how students learn data analysis in this unique learning environment, and also how their struggles and experiences of failure in the laboratory impact their attitudes and mindset.

Summary of PHYS 2015:
Our student learning goals for this course include: 1) developing the ability to plan and carry out investigations and using data analysis and modeling to construct explanations for particular phenomena and systems (Scientific Practices); 2) using Crosscutting Concepts as reasoning tools within data analysis to connect the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) and Scientific Practices, such as recognizing Patterns in the graphical representations of data that allow for further analysis of diffusive and directed motion; 3) building an understanding of micro-scale transport in biological systems, focusing on diffusion and directed motion in aqueous environments where viscous forces are dominant (DCIs); and 4) working in collaborative groups and enacting roles of Manager, Recorder, Data Interpreter, or Skeptic to contribute uniquely and effectively towards collaborative experimentation. 

Students engage in the following sequence during the first semester: they begin by analyzing and interpreting data about the motion of zebrafish swimming in a confined space to develop familiarity and basic skills using equipment, software, and computational skills needed to quantify the motion of multiple objects from video tracking data. Next, students explore drag forces at the macroscopic level, building new video acquisition and analysis skills and developing an understanding of viscous forces and terminal velocity. Next, students explore the interplay between diffusive and directed motion by investigating the two-dimensional (planar) motion of microscopic spheres through fluids with different viscosities and as a function of the angle of the surface. This culminates in a final investigation of vesicle motion in a live onion cell, where students utilize the competencies and knowledge gained from previous investigations to develop an understanding of motor-protein transport along microtubules and actin filaments. Throughout the course, student groups use inverted optical microscopes with charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras and/or webcams, video collection and analysis software (VirtualDub), biological image processing software (ImageJ), and mathematics-based spreadsheet software (Excel) to collect video data of macroscopic or microscopic systems. 

People and Roles:

  • Jason May:  Physics (PER) PhD student at the U.  Jason is the lead student on IPL2S and obtained an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to work on this project.  Jason has worked tirelessly to develop the courses, make sure they are executed well, train and support graduate TAs and undergraduate LAs, develop a strong educational research agenda around these reformed lab courses, and obtain research data for his PhD project.
  • Prof. Claudia De Grandi:  Claudia is an Assistant Professor of Educational Practice in Physics and Astronomy at the U.  Claudia led the development of the PHYS 2025 curriculum and has served as the lead instructor.  She is a co-PI on the NSF IUSE grant that funds research on how students learn data analysis in this rich laboratory environment.  Claudia has also developed much of the TA and LA support structures that allow these courses to be successful, and has worked hard to ensure they are sustained.
  • Prof. Lauren Barth-Cohen:  Lauren is an Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology at the U.  Lauren is the PI of the NSF IUSE grant that funds research on how students learn data analysis in this rich laboratory environment.
  • Amanda Adams:  Amanda was an undergraduate researcher from the University of Tulsa in Summer 2019 who helped develop some of the research instruments.
  • Brianna Montoya:  Brianna was an undergraduate and a postbac student at the U who helped develop and execute the initial curriculum.  She is now a Physics PhD student (PER) at the University of Maryland at College Park.
  • Isaac Brown:  Isaac is a Physics PhD student at the U who contributed as a highly-engaged TA.
  • My role:  I started this project with Jason May in the Summer of 2017 in preparation for the Crocker Science Center coming online in January 2018.  I worked with Jason May and Brianna Montoya to develop the initial curriculum and was the lead instructor for PHYS 2015 for the initial two course offerings.  I obtained initial funding from the College of Science Dean’s office and Department of Physics & Astronomy to outfit the labs and pay some of the original personnel to help develop and run the labs.  I helped develop the FLAMEnet growth mindset intervention for labs and course-based research experiences, deployed it in all sections of PHYS 2015 in Spring 2019, obtained qualitative data from the intervention, performed some preliminary analysis (coding) of the data, and obtained baseline data in Fall 2019.   I am a co-PI on the NSF IUSE grant that funds research on how students learn data analysis in this rich laboratory environment.
© Jordan Gerton 2019