Physics Department Statement on Scholarship

As we attempt to articulate what scholarship means to the Luther College Physics Department, we find ourselves contemplating our vision for the ideal physics department.  First, all members of the department would exhibit a devotion to science and to learning more about our physical universe.  Second, each member would, by example, inspire our students to strive for a deeper understanding of physics and the workings of science.  Third, each member would contribute a unique strength to the department.  For example, one department member may spend their summers doing collaborative work at larger research oriented institutions – building up a record of research publications – while at the same time supervising student on-campus research projects during the academic year.  Another member may spend some time investigating new teaching pedagogy and developing tools and materials to be used in the physics classroom and lab.  Other department members may elect to direct numerous on-campus research projects at the same time.  There are various ways in which faculty can apply their talents to maintain a vibrant environment for teaching and research.

1. What forms of scholarship define the work of those in your department (program) at their best?

Scholarship in physics naturally includes theoretical and experimental research undertaken to develop a better understanding of physical systems. The most important form of scholarship is research with students. This work may lead to publications and conference presentations by both students and faculty. 

2. What forms of peer review—including those beyond the Luther campus—are appropriate for that work?

The forms of faculty peer review for physics include publications in peer-reviewed journals, books, submitted grant proposals and publication in conference proceedings.

3. How can you encourage and enable your colleagues to see that such work bears fruit in their teaching?

In a general sense, working regularly on the hard problems encountered in research keeps us fresh in our teaching.  It keeps us excited and energetic as we approach our teaching.  When we engage in research that is accessible to undergraduates we increase our ability to have classroom and hallway discussions about active research.  Faculty/student collaborative research is a teaching and learning activity.  In these settings, the students learn that  acquiring knowledge about physical systems is both a challenge and a valuable endeavor.

4. What depth and range of achievement in scholarship at the third year, tenure review, and application for promotion for full professor should distinguish the work of Luther faculty?

By the time of third-year review we expect to see some evidence of progress in at least one of the categories listed in Section 2. A colleague might have written a proposal to acquire funding for a research lab, published a research paper or might have done faculty/student collaborative work leading to a publication or presentation by the student. To achieve tenure, a faculty member should have produced at least one peer-reviewed publication and should have participated in research with students. By the time of promotion to full professor it should be clear that research work is ongoing, both work with students and work that leads to publications.

5. What distinctive forms of scholarship can thrive at a liberal arts college of the church?

Luther’s environment and size are conducive to small-scale faculty/student collaborations. This “niche” work can thrive at small institutions where students and faculty develop close relationships. Examples of this work include experiments that involve minimal equipment or resources and are typically very narrowly focused. This work is of tremendous value to the student and always has the potential for producing intriguing results. Collaborations with faculty outside of the physics department can thrive at a place like Luther. These projects might revolve around the interaction of science and religion, science and politics, or the environment. For example innovative studies of science policy or the implications of extraterrestrial intelligence fall into this category. These collaborative investigations would probe the boundaries where our understanding of physical systems interact with other areas of human knowledge and activity, but likely would flow out of a well-established research program in physics. On-campus presentations, to colleagues, students, and community members, would also be a natural outgrowth of scholarship at a liberal arts college like Luther.

(August 2014)