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Physicist leads $2.2 million effort to improve physics programs and instruction

By Steve Lundeberg

David Craig, a professor of practice in the Department of Physics, will lead a five-year, multimillion dollar effort to help physics departments at colleges and universities nationwide improve their programs and instruction.

A theoretical physicist, Craig is the co-chair of the American Physical Society’s EP3 Project – Effective Practices for Physics Programs. He joined Oregon State last fall from Le Moyne College in New York, where he built and chaired the physics department.

David Craig in front of grey backdrop

Physics professor David Craig

The National Science Foundation has awarded $2.2 million to the project, which aims to address a variety of challenges facing one of the least diverse of all of the STEM disciplines.

“The purpose of the EP3 Project is to gather research-based knowledge, tools and information in one place and in an easily accessible format to assist department chairs and other program leaders,” Craig said. “Whether the task is increasing the number of physics majors, improving departmental climate and inclusivity or introducing research-based pedagogical practices into physics classrooms, we can help. We want to make up-to-date know-how readily available to every physics department in the US.”

Collaborating with the APS is the American Association of Physics Teachers. The EP3 Project’s first mission is creating a guide for self-assessment of undergraduate physics programs founded on documented best practices linked to measurable outcomes, and then creating training and support structures to assist departments and programs implement the information in the guide. The guide will allow physics departments to create, assess and improve their individual programs in a way that can respond to local constraints, resources and opportunities.

“In recent years there has been a growing emphasis on accountability in higher education, but individual departments frequently create programs and their assessments entirely on their own, without the benefit of the experience of the broader physics community or from published research,” Craig said.

Craig noted that many specific challenges face the discipline of physics as a whole, including:

  • Students, especially from underrepresented groups, are not learning as much as they could in physics courses.
  • Many undergraduate physics programs are modeled after those designed to prepare students as research physicists, but more than 65 percent of students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in physics do not pursue a graduate degree in physics or astronomy.
  • Physics programs are not producing enough well-prepared high school physics teachers to meet national demand.

Project leaders believe the EP3 Guide will have the potential to transform how physics departments engage students in their education. More information about the EP3 Project is available online at