Students in Physics Course Craft New U.S. Energy Policy

Author: Marissa Gebhard

Undergraduate students in Professor of Physics Ani Aprahamian’s course, Concepts of Energy and Environment, are spending part of the semester crafting a new energy policy for the United States. Class members are divided into teams that report on specific energy resources plus a 10-person policy committee that checks affected regulations and a 10-person panel that will draft the conclusions. 

The goal, Aprahamian says, is to engage the students, mostly business majors, in real-life issues that involve science, so they will be prepared to consider such issues in society. “They’re not interested in deep science issues, equations, and derivations,” she says. “Today, nobody can afford not to be involved in the deep science issues. It affects all of us. It is so timely. There are new policies and a new administration.” The popular course, based in the Department of Physics, fulfills the University’s science requirement for non-physics majors.

Teams are giving PowerPoint presentations on petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear energy, solar energy, wind power, geothermal and bio-fuels, and answering questions from the class, the policy group, and the panel. The policy group keeps the class alert to regulations that govern such fields as the construction industry, transportation, appliances, workforce education, and risks/benefits for the exploitation of various resources. An architecture student on the policy team, for example, is checking to make sure that proposals line up with building codes and building materials.

Groups must consider availability; past, present and projected future uses of the resource; costs; security; workforce; political and environmental risks; benefits; international context and efficiency issues for each resource. Voting on the policy will be in early April. “You see what you can negotiate on, what you can’t negotiate on,” Aprahamian says. “It’s not just a one-sided issue. I think this kind of learning you never forget.”