Bringing Physics to the Masses
David Jackson named editor of American Journal of Physics
by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
July 26, 2011
David Jackson, associate professor of physics, was recently named editor of the American Journal of Physics. Although it is a three-year editorship, editors typically continue in their work for one or two additional terms.
David Jackson’s quest to expand the reach of science education has led him to a coveted editing post. The associate professor of physics’ three-year editorship of the American Journal of Physics (AJP) will begin on Sept. 1.
“It’s a massive challenge,” said Jackson, “and it’s very exciting.”
Founded by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in the 1930s, the monthly journal reaches 6,500 subscribers and accepts more than 800 submissions each year. This means that Jackson must review approximately 70 submissions each month before selecting and editing about 17 for a given issue, which typically runs about 100 pages.
As the AAPT selection committee noted, Jackson is well suited to the task. An impassioned educator and co-author of a physics textbook for non-majors, Jackson is dedicated to communicating physics concepts to an ever-expanding pool of inquiring minds.
Jackson learned that he wanted to teach physics while earning his Ph.D. at Princeton University. “I knew then that I wanted to teach at a liberal-arts college, because it would allow me to [bring a deeper appreciation for physics] to majors and non-majors,” he said.
After a three-year stint as a visiting assistant professor at Dickinson, Jackson joined the faculty in a tenure-track position in 2001. He chaired the physics & astronomy department from 2006 to '09. A frequent contributor at national and international conferences, he has earned numerous awards and grants and has published articles in several respected journals. This includes AJP, which has printed eight of Jackson’s papers and invited him to guest-edit two issues.
Jackson’s co-authored text, Explorations in Physics: An Activity-Based Approach to Understanding the World (2002) reflects a central focus of his career. The book applies basic physics concepts to real-world situations, allowing students with different academic backgrounds to fully grasp them. “Non-science majors are perfectly capable of understanding the basic principles and concepts taught at the undergraduate level,” Jackson states. “The only difference is that the physics majors are more interested in figuring out the math.”
A musician and art appreciator, Jackson also appreciates the skills and perspectives that non-science majors bring into the lab. An abstract artwork hanging outside his office illustrates this point: Jackson created the image by simulating magnetic liquids. As the liquids evolved, they formed intricate—some might say beautiful—patterns.
Jackson’s cross-disciplinary approach complements the core spirit of AJP. Most physics journals publish cutting-edge findings within a narrow realm of study, using highly technical jargon that only scientists specializing in that field might understand. AJP, on the other hand, distills the latest research into relatively jargon-free reports. “Most AJP articles can be understood by all physicists, most graduate students, many undergraduates and a good number of scientists in other disciplines,” Jackson explained. “So the information can reach many more readers.”
A typical issue might cover emerging research and offer professional-development materials for physics teachers, such as educational resource lists, tips on the latest equipment and pedagogical advice.
“Because the journal isn’t super-specialized, I’ll learn a great deal about different areas of physics,” said Jackson, who specializes in the study of magnetic liquids. “I’ll be out of my comfort zone—and I’m looking forward to that.”
Feather in the cap
As he prepares to take the reins at AJP, Jackson also looks forward to bringing more interactivity and customization to the journal’s online-reading experience. “Because of security issues related to hosting the data online, it’s a complex process, so it’s not going to happen immediately. But there are many exciting interactive [elements] that can be added down the road,” he said.
The journal’s editorial office will be hosted at the academic home of its new editor for as long as Jackson fills that role. “It’s a feather in the cap for the college and the physics department to host this well-respected journal. And it’s an honor for me,” Jackson said.