Community Sourcing of Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences: The Living Physics Portal

Robert Hilborn
Associate Executive Officer
American Association of Physics Teachers

Need: Introductory physics courses aimed at life science students serve more than 200,000 students per year. However, those courses are often structured like courses for physics and engineering majors with few direct applications to meet the needs and interests of life science students. Producing materials for these courses is complicated by the fact that there are many different life science student audiences, including biology students interested in basic research, pre-medical, pre-dental, and pre-veterinary students, and students in allied health fields such as nursing, kinesiology, medical imaging, and radiation treatment.

Guiding Question: What is the most effective way to develop and engage a community of physics faculty members to develop and distribute curricular and pedagogical materials aimed at physics courses for life science students, considering the diverse needs and interests of life science students?

Outcomes: This project brought together physics faculty members and education researchers from eight colleges and universities (University of Maryland – College Park, Swarthmore College, George Washington University, Mercy College, Rockhurst University, University of New Hampshire, Montgomery College, Portland State University and the American Association of Physics Teachers) to develop an innovative online Living Physics Portal ( . After extensive user-experience research and website design, the Portal now houses a Community Library of physics for the life sciences materials, on which any educator may post materials, and a Vetted Library, for which the contributed materials are given reviews by an editorial team. The Vetted Library materials can be assembled into diverse structures for use in a variety of ways. The initial contributions consisted of materials developed through previous National Science Foundation grants. The Portal now has 686 active members and over 400 indexed resources. The materials range from instructor aids, topical modules, sets of online homework problems, instructional laboratory materials through complete course packages. We have arrangements with several commercial vendors who work with faculty using the materials to mount the materials on the faculty member’s home institution’s course management system and to make the online homework problems available to students.

The Living Physics Portal site also provides mechanisms for community feedback on the curricular materials and methods for faculty to modify and repackage contributed materials and to post those packages (with acknowledgement of the original authors) on the Portal.

Broader Impacts: This project has developed an exportable model for curricular development and dissemination in all STEM disciplines and for the enhanced use of interactive engagement pedagogies affecting hundreds of thousands of students each year. Several other STEM curriculum projects are or will soon be using the Living Physics Portal infrastructure for contributions and dissemination of their materials.

This work was supported in part by NSF IUSE Collaborative Research grants 1624185, 1624478, 1624017, 1624374, 1624158, 1624007, 1624006, 1624549, 1624192, and 1733904.


Sarah McKagan, American Association of Physics Teachers; Edward F. Redish, University of Maryland, College Park; Chandra Turpen, University of Maryland, College Park; Catherine Crouch, Swarthmore College; Bruce Mason, University of Oklahoma; Nancy Beverly, Mercy College; Ralf Widenhorn, Portland State University; Dawn Meredith, University of New Hampshire; Nancy Donaldson, Rockhurst University; Raluca Teodorescu, Montgomery College; Mark Reeves, George Washington University;