Monday, January 31, 2011

PDEs now at Canadian McGill University

"New class for the physics department?"

Partial differential equations could become a requirement at McGill


Jenna Blumenthal

January 31st, 2011

The McGill Daily

Not since they put a flat screen in the foyer has Rutherford Physics seen such excitement. The building is buzzing with rumours that the inclusion of a course on partial differential equations (PDEs)– a mathematical tool indispensable for physicists – will be the next big change to the majors curriculum.

“PDEs is one of those things that if you want to do physics, it pretty much puts up a wall if you don’t have it,” says McGill Society of Physics Students VP Academic Nina Kudryashova. “It’s so omnipresent.”

Although it’s been brought up, it is unlikely that PDEs will become a requirement anytime soon. “To even give it rumour status is going a little far” Physics Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Chairman Professor Kenneth Ragan says, “and for current [physics] students lacking PDEs, it’s not fatal.”

Physics professors often include higher-level math, like PDEs, in their curriculum on a need-to-know basis: if a particular tool from a math course which is not required for physics majors is needed, the professor will explain it in class.

Potential curriculum changes confront several aching levels of administration. It must first be approved by the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee within the Physics department, and then by the entire department itself. Finally, it is brought to the Academic Policy Committee of the Science Faculty and the Subcommittee on Courses and Teaching Programs.

In a year where a lack of dialogue between students and the administration has been a ubiquitous campus issue, the process of curriculum approval manages to go against the grain. Students participate in committee activities at each level, and certainly within the Physics department, professors are listening. “Students at the UCC are in some sense the most critical” says Ragan, “they are who we get most of our feedback from and we take that feedback very seriously.”

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