Physics of Energy: A Sustainability-Themed University Travel Course

Physics of Energy: A Sustainability-Themed University Travel Course

Katrina Hay
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5856-1.ch022
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A new physics course was offered at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, which provides students with an understanding of the underlying physical principles of traditional and alternative energy production. The course was a travel course in the western United States, an ideal area to study practical use and research of hydroelectric, wind, nuclear, solar, ocean wave and geothermal energy sources. This sustainability-themed course was taught for the first time in January 2011 and traveled via the Amtrak Coast Starlight train, making stops in Washington, Oregon and California. Students studied the connection between resources, energy and surrounding communities. This chapter lists learning objectives, lecture and lab topics, energy sources and locations visited. Additionally, this chapter describes motivation for a sustainability-themed course in physics and contains a discussion of the unique experience of traveling with students.
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Setting The Stage

One of the biggest challenges to sustainable use of our planet’s resources is our great need for energy production. There are many methods of energy production, some simple, some complex. These methods use various types of resources. Most of our current energy needs in the United States are met by fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) (EIA, 2013). These resources are finite and rate of world energy consumption is continually increasing. There is a need for renewable energy education, research and technology, as well as for scientists and future leaders who have interdisciplinary education. World leaders recognize the need for alternative energy. President Barack Obama, speaking in his 2012 State of the Union Address about developing energy technology, stated that the USA needs an “all-out, all-of-the-above strategy” (Obama, 2012).

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