A reminiscence from Sandy Grassie, former faculty member
Eric Rogers and “Physics for the enquiring mind”
Eric came to Sussex in the first year of The School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and gave a most stimulating and challenging course to the first year students. The flavour was action based, mind twisting, and attention grabbing- a style of presentation later used by David Betts and Alan Walton to equal success.
Tutoring the Structure and Properties of Matter (SPM) first year course, I found his book an ideal stamping ground to vary the approach to many of the topics covered in the lectures which still gave puzzlement to the students.
Eric later went on to be the prime mover in the development of Nuffield O-level (as it then was) Physics. Building on John Lewis’s work for the Institute of Physics developing equipment to teach ideas of atomic physics , he and a powerful team extended that work down into the earlier years of school Physics teaching.
Secondment to Nuffield Foundation
Eric it was who got me seconded to the Nuffield Foundation for Science Teaching to take the post of co-developer with John Spice of an A-level Nuffield course in Physical Sciences. The course was designed to combine both Physics and Chemistry in a single subject with the intention of widening the subject choice of A level pupils beyond the more conventional Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics across towards Biology or the Arts. That was just the kind of cross-disciplinary course that had attracted me and many others to the University in the first place.
In fact, the Nuffield Foundation baulked rather at putting all development work into this single project and, although extensive consultations and discussions with University Physicists and Engineers across England gave clearance to that single Physical Science course for entry to University, stating that it would pose no problems to students in their study years at University, the Chemists unfortunately felt that they would not be able to include enough material to develop properly a graduate chemist.
Finally, A level courses in each of Physics, Chemistry and Physical Science were developed- as well as a Biology course.
MAPS /MOLS Fission
Just at that time of that hesitation on the part of Nuffield, came the fission of the School of MAPS with the hiving off of a School of Molecular Sciences.
For me that fission was- and still is -a disappointment.
One of the claims was that the Structure and Properties of Matter first year course could not get the chemistry students quickly enough into the usage of the Schrodinger equation with the details of the orbitals and bonding that the chemists so needed.
The Physics Faculty at that time worked extensively to ease this pedagogical problem but time and the pressures of setting up the Science School were against them.
That great step forward in teaching at a lower level was actually achieved by the Nuffield A-level physics team a few years after the fission and many Universities in the USA and elsewhere now teach an introductory quantum mechanics course- not just an atomic physics course - at the beginning of a student’s graduate studies. Those courses use computer solution of the Schrodinger Equation to show all the angular variations which second year Physics students traditionally struggled to achieve through the complexities of the “real” mathematics.
A little more time and less pressure could have led to Sussex being at the forefront of that development.
The still present disappointment over that fission is that research on the Physics/Chemistry interface has been one of the most productive developments over the intervening years –as I found out when, later in my time and after quite extensive collaboration at research level with the Materials Science Research Group at Philips Redhill, I was appointed a Royal Society Industrial Research Fellow there. The industrial research team there, including included physicists, chemists and metallurgists , was precisely set up to share collaboratively different approaches to physical problems. Such a development was exactly what had been envisaged for Sussex at the early recruitment stages and, to my mind, could well have been most fruitful had that atmosphere prevailed.
Returning from time with Nuffield, I planned to continue to offer teachers the stimulus that the O-level courses had been giving and set up a set of One Day Schools for Physics Teachers. These are now classified as “Out-reach Activities” but then were also targeted to have the teachers on campus to see what a New University could offer their pupils. These consisted of four talks on the day, each of the days having different focus- Nuclear Physics, Materials Science Quantum Mechanics and Astronomy, being among the subjects covered. The first of the talks was intended to cover topics just beyond what was at the time being taught at A level, the second and third then went over what was being taught at main undergraduate level and the fourth gave a review of related research actively in progress at Sussex and elsewhere. These proved very popular, with coverage of schools from Norfolk across and down to Hampshire, and ran for some twenty years.
A further “Out-reach Activity” was the running for several years of an In-Service B.Ed. course for teacher in East and West Sussex, which gave the participants tutorial support in the science of their choice for a preparatory year of part time study, followed by attendance at suitable undergraduate courses with tutorial support for a scientific topic which interested them. Unfortunately, financial strictures brought this development at the University to a sad end after some four or five years.
At the beginning of Sussex Physics, Les Allen had set up a collaboration with Imperial College to help development of the University of Ife in Nigeria, itself being “New”. Many of the Science and Mathematics faculty at Sussex took part in this work, going out for a term of absence from Sussex, sometimes to give self contained term-long courses and sometimes to follow on giving the lecture courses that the preceding Sussex/Imperial lecturer had given. For many of us on that scheme, myself included, that term in Nigeria will be one of the memories of a lifetime in teaching. Appreciating what could, and had to, be done with very minimal facilities, even less than we had had at the beginning of Sussex Physics , and experiencing the drive and passion of the student learning there was immensely heartening.