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Faculty Profile

Hans Pfister

Professor of Physics; George Wesley Pedlow Chair in Pedagogy (1991)

Contact Information

Tome Scientific Building Room 211


As an advocate for the environment he encourages sustainable living, supports sustainable technology, and embraces renewable energy sources. With the help of a 2006 Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) Seed/Assistance grant he was able to turn one of his visions, a sun-tracking solar concentrator, into a reality. This prototype will soon make some of the hot water for the students living in Dickinson’s Center for Sustainable Living. A 2009 Innovation Transfer Network (ITN)/KIZ Seed/Assistance grant enabled him to design and build a concentrating solar collector, which converts solar energy directly into electricity, using a thermoelectric converter (TEC). A 2007 ITN/KIZ grant supported the design and construction of a dental device, which removes temporary crowns and bridges by a series of micro pulses, applied to the backside of the dental appliances. Over the course of the semester he devotes time as a plasma physicist to work with senior physics majors on his design of a plasma propulsion device known as a Hall thruster. With another group of seniors he built a solar powered Stirling engine. Over the course of the past 18 years he has developed numerous kinesthetic physics experiments, incorporating his students into the experiment, thus allowing them to feel the forces and accelerations on their own body. Three of his inventions, a Kinesthetics Cart for Motion in 1-D, a Kinesthetics Cart for Motion in 2-D, and a Thermodynamic Engine and Ideal Gas Law Demonstration Apparatus are being used at over a thousand colleges, universities, and high schools. Some of his other interests include physics puzzles, tricks, and toys, as applied to the physics classroom.


  • Staatsexam, Eberhard Karls Universitat, 1981
  • Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles, 1991

2023-2024 Academic Year

Fall 2023

PHYS 211 Vibrations, Waves & Optics
Completion of both PHYS 211 and PHYS 212 fulfills the WID Requirement.

PHYS 312 Electrodynamics
This course will investigate electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics in vacuum and in matter. Maxwell's equations of electrodynamics are developed and explored in depth. Vector calculus is used throughout this course. Possible projects include the experimental study of capacitors, the force and torque on a magnetic dipole, and an exploration of Faraday-induced electric fields. Prerequisite: 211, 212 and 282, or permission of instructor.

Spring 2024

PHYS 114 Climate Change/Renewable Energ
An introduction to the physics of global climate change and a hands-on exposure to several types of renewable energy. The first third of this project-centered course introduces the basic physical principles of global climate change with a focus on radiative equilibrium, greenhouse effect, energy balance, and entropy. Since the energy sources of an energetically sustainable future will consist of renewable energies and possibly thermonuclear fusion energy, the remaining two thirds of the course is devoted to an exploration of wind turbines, solar concentrators, thermoelectric convertors, and photovoltaic systems. This course will not count toward major requirements in physics. Offered every two years.

PHYS 132 Introductory Physics
An introduction to basic physics topics using the workshop method. This method combines inquiry-based cooperative learning with the comprehensive use of computer tools for data acquisition, data analysis and mathematical modeling. Topics in thermodynamics, electricity, electronics and magnetism are covered. Additional topics in chaos or nuclear radiation are introduced. Basic calculus concepts are used throughout the course. Recommended for physical science, mathematics, and pre-engineering students and for biology majors preparing for graduate study. Three two-hour sessions per week. (Students enrolled in Physics 132 who have completed Mathematics 170 are encouraged to continue their mathematics preparation while taking physics by enrolling in Mathematics 171.) Because of the similarity in course content, students will not receive graduation credit for both 132 and 142. Prerequisite: 131 and completion of, or concurrent enrollment in MATH 170.