MAT 595M Seminar Series

Symmetry and Aesthetics in Contemporary Physics

March 13, 2012
5:30 pm  to  7:00 pm

Speaker: Jatila van der Veen, University of California, Santa Barbara


Although research in psychology and neuroscience suggests a correlation between arts and sciences in the way people learn, the prevailing paradigm in education is to treat arts and sciences as completely separate cognitive domains. I suggest that this arts-sciences segregation in our educational system may be contributing to the persistent fear of math and physics in society. An intervention which is based on multimodal learning strategies of arts and sciences may be a hopeful way to overcome this fear. I suggest that the concept of symmetry, which is at the heart of our understanding of the laws of nature, and which is embedded in our perception of aesthetics, offers a common talking point from which to design such a new educational paradigm.

In this talk I will discuss my course, Symmetry and Aesthetics in Contemporary Physics, as an intervention at the undergraduate level, with potential applications in graduate education, K-12 education, and teacher preparation. I will present an overview of the course, some positive results of using drawing for understanding in physics education, as well as some of the difficulties I have encountered in attempting to overcome resistance to this model. Finally, I will discuss implications for ongoing research in how people learn, as well as implications for redesigning how we conceptualize education.

This work has been supported by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Planck Mission.


Dr. Jatila van der Veen is a Research Associate in the Lubin Experimental Cosmology Lab, under a NASA grant, as the Education Coordinator for the International Planck Mission. She is also a Lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Studies program of the College of Creative Studies.
Her Masters and “ABD” are in geophysics from Columbia University, and her Ph.D. is in Physics Education from UCSB. She has worked in industry as a geophysicist, in education as a physics teacher in high school, lecturer in physics at UCSB, and after obtaining her Ph.D. in Education at UCSB she has been teaching and doing research in the use of visualization in teaching
physics. This work extends from the simple use of drawing for understanding in physics to teaching astronomy in virtual immersive spaces to visualization and sonification of the Cosmic Microwave Background, which she has been working on with Ph.D. students in the MAT program.


Coming soon…