|American Physical Society Honors Davidson Physicist as a "Fellow"
March 08, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
Richardson Professor Larry Cain has been elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Election is limited to no more than one half of one percent of the membership, and recognizes outstanding contributions to the discipline.
|Richardson Professor Larry Cain
The American Physical Society strives to be the leading voice for physics and an authoritative source of physics information. It collaborates with national and international scientific societies for the advancement of science, science education and the science community.
Cain was cited specifically "For strong commitment to the advancement of undergraduate teaching and research, and for significant contributions to introductory physics curriculum and assessment at the national level."
Cain joined the Davidson faculty in 1978 after earning his B.S. degree magna cum laude from Wake Forest University, and his master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia. His career has been distinguished not only as a teacher and scholar on campus, but through service to the broader physics community.
He has steadfastly promoted research collaboration between undergraduate students and the department's six faculty members. That includes engaging students in his own research into the elastic, mechanical and optical properties of solids. That work has resulted in published articles with 11 student co-authors in Physical Review B and Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids.
Cain also initiated at Davidson demanding intermediate and advanced lab courses that incorporate written and oral communication skills students need for successful careers in the field. He has also led many non-majors into an appreciation for the impact of physics on daily life though teaching courses such as "The Physics Around You," "Astronomy" and "Physics of the Environment."
Cain has represented his department as its faculty chair for 18 of the last 21 years. He has collaborated with departmental colleagues in instituting best practices in physics teaching and in using new physics pedagogies, including "Just-in-Time-Teaching" and "Physlets," in courses at all levels of the curriculum.
His greatest academic achievement may not be work in the classroom or lab, however. Cain's dedication to physics has involved extensive service with professional associations, and the national Advanced Placement program in physics. For 17 years he served as treasurer of the Southeastern Section of the American Physics Society, and the association thanked him recently with its Francis G. Slack Award for outstanding service.
For the past 10 years he has steadily taken on more responsibility with the College Board's Advanced Placement Program in Physics. He was a member of the AP Physics Development Committee for eight years, five of those as chair. That committee was charged with developing the courses and exams for the three AP Physics courses.
He served eight years as grader and five years as table leader in reviewing the 90,000 or so AP Physics exams submitted by high school physics students nationwide.
Five years ago, as part of a general AP reevaluation of its science courses, Cain was selected to co-chair a commission revamping one of the AP's three physics courses and associated tests. The commission has recently concluded its work and submitted recommendations for changes in both the content of the course and its teaching pedagogy. The changes will be applied in high school classrooms around the country in the next three or four years as teachers are retrained in the new material and methodology.
While he's proud of that appointment and the work of his commission, Cain said his greatest satisfaction comes from teaching students. "I've always loved teaching," he said. "I enjoy being with students, and watching them come to an understanding of the material."
Continual discoveries in physics prompt satisfying and exciting discussions with his students, and continually challenge his own intellect. And there's a great deal to be excited about in physics today, he says. His own research area of condensed matter promises creation of new materials. Physics will also be an integral partner in helping create new sources of energy for the planet. And the practice of physics is steadily unraveling the immense, inscrutable secrets of our universe.
Cain is honored that his colleagues in the APS count his contributions to the field as deserving of fellowship status. And he's grateful that for the past 31 years he's been able to call Davidson his home for work in the field. "People ask me when I'm going to retire, but I can't imagine it," he said. "Teaching physics is just what I do."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.