School of Arts and Sciences
American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies

Derrick H. PittsDerrick H. Pitts, Chief Astronomer, Planetarium Director

Franklin Institute Science Museum

Title: The (Universal) Matrix Reloaded

Abstract: When he was a kid, Jupiter had nine moons (now 63), Saturn had twelve (now 61), and Pluto was a planet. The changes that have taken place in astronomy and space science since then are, well – astronomical! Pitts will bring us up to speed on what he calls “The New Universe”, highlighting the most significant advances that alter how we think about the cosmos, its origins and ourselves.

Short Bio:

Dr. Derrick Pitts has been associated with the Franklin Institute Science Museum since 1978, designing and presenting many of the museum’s public programs and exhibits. Pitts was the original director of the Tuttleman OMNIMAX Theater, museum vice-president and many other valued positions. He has been Chief Astronomer and Director of the Fels Planetarium since 1990. As planetarium director, Pitts has written and produced more than two-dozen planetarium programs. In 2009, he served as the US National Spokesperson for the International Astronomical Union’s ‘International Year of Astronomy and this year has been selected as a NASA Solar System Ambassador.

He has written numerous astronomy columns for newspapers and national magazines. He appears regularly on all the major television networks as a science content expert and for nearly two decades has hosted award-winning astronomy radio programs on Philadelphia’s WHYY 91 FM and on WXPN’s ‘Kids’ Corner’ radio program. Pitts is also a regular guest commentator on Countdown with Keith Olberman, the highest rated news program on MSNBC and on CNN International. He recently had stunning appearances on the Comedy Channel’s “Colbert Report” and “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on CBS. Pitts recently met President Barack Obama and his family when he was invited to the White House to participate in the first-ever White House Star Party.

Pitts is nationally known as an excellent ‘teacher’. His presentations are stimulating, humorous, intellectually challenging, compelling and at the same time accessible to the broadest audiences. He puts his emphasis on making sure that everyone can come to appreciate the universe as he sees it – not a watered-down sketch of the universe, but a rich, deep, complex version with human connections that everyone can understand at some level.

Among his many awards are the Mayor’s Liberty Bell, the St. Lawrence University Distinguished Alumni Award, the G. W. Carver Medal, the Please Touch Museum’s “Great Friend To Kids” Award, induction into the Germantown Historical Society Hall of Fame, selection as one of the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science” by Science Spectrum Magazine in 2004 and the 2005 “Men Making a Difference in the Community” Award from the Legacy of Love Foundation.

Pitts currently serves as the University Honors committee chair on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater St. Lawrence University, is a member of the Board of Trustees at Widener University and is currently president of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Greater Philadelphia Chapter. He and his wife Linda reside in the Centennial Park section of Philadelphia.


Dr. Warren W. HeinDr. Warren W. Hein is Executive Officer at the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).   Hein received his BS degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1966 and his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Iowa State University in 1970.  Prior to joining the AAPT as Associate Executive Officer in February 1997, Hein taught physics at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, from 1970 to 1979, and South Dakota State University from 1979 to 1997.  He also served as Department Head from 1985 to 1997.

Title:  The Physics Department’s Role in the Preparation of Pre-College Physics Teachers: An Update on the PhysTEC Project

Abstract:  The PhysTEC (Physics Teacher Education Coalition) is a joint project of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), American Physical Society (APS), and American Institute of Physics (AIP) with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Education, and the APS 21st Century Campaign.  The mission of PhysTEC is to improve and promote the education of future physics and physical science teachers.  Specifically, the project aims to:

  • Demonstrate successful models for
    • Increasing the number of highly qualified high school physics teachers
    • Improving the quality of K-8 physical science teacher education
  • Spread best-practice ideas throughout the physics teacher preparation community
  • Transform physics departments to engage in preparing physics teachers

The project has recently received a second grant of $6.5 million from the NSF and will be funding projects at additional institutions including pilot programs at two-year colleges.

Matt GreenwolfeMatt Greenwolfe, Physics Teacher and the President-Elect of the American Modeling Teachers Association

Title:  Don't Hide the Model! High school students and computational modeling with VPython

Abstract:  Professional scientists increasingly use the computer as a modeling tool on a co-equal basis with theory and experiment, yet students typically use the computer only to interact with models created by others.  VPython is an open source extension to the popular python programming language that simplifies three dimensional graphics programming, allowing students to create their own computational models of complex systems using only the fundamental laws of mechanics.  At the college level, VPython is already part of the popular reform curriculum Matter and Interactions.  In this talk, I will explain how I incorporate VPython into my high school classes.

Short bio:  Matt Greenwolfe grew up in Indiana and received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD in physics from The University of Michigan. Over the past eleven years his high school classes have evolved to use guided inquiry, student discourse and multiple representations. He is currently president-elect of the American Modeling Teachers Association,