Western Kentucky University
Department of Physics and Astronomy


Dr. Mats Selen

Department of Physics
University of Illinois

"Reforming Intro Physics Labs to Focus on Innovation, Creativity, and Scientific Skills"

March 11, 2019 @ 4:00 pm in EST 260

About the Speaker

Dr. Selen earned B.Sc.('82) and M.Sc.('83) degrees in physics at the University of Guelph, and M.A.('85) and Ph.D.('89) degrees in particle physics at Princeton University. After a four year post-doc at Cornell he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois Department of Physics in 1993, where just finished a 4-year stint as the Associate Head of Undergraduate Programs. After 25 years of studying elementary particles he shifted his research focus to understanding and improving the way students learn physics. With Illinois colleagues he developed the iclicker classroom response system, the smartPhysics learning framework, and most recently the IOLab wireless data acquisition system. He was named the 2016 U.S. Professor of the Year.


Approaching a question without fear; coming up with an idea; designing an experiment; understanding assumptions; interpreting data; reasoning from evidence. Many physicists would claim they do this for a living, and most would be delighted to observe this behavior in their students, yet for a variety of reasons this is often not what we encourage in our introductory physics labs. We have developed a portable wireless lab system with the goal of putting simple yet powerful tools in the hands of every student, and we are currently implementing a new design-based approach to our introductory physics labs based on this tool. Our students invent experiments and acquire data both in and out of the classroom, and share their data with each other and with instructors using an integrated cloud based repository. This new approach is allowing us to shift the focus of our introductory physics labs toward creativity, critical thinking, and communication.