the intellectual structure of these curricula and the national support for them seemed strong, by the 1970s these reform efforts were no longer widely used. By the 1980s, only traces of them remained at any level of the U.S. educational system (Matthews, 1994).

The first groups doing work that could be called PER began systematic research programs on student difficulties at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington (Cummings, 2011). The Berkeley group was a mix of physicists, educators, and educational psychologists; the Washington group was self-contained in physics. These groups influenced some physicists to join the PER effort and some physics students to search for a professional path into the emerging field of PER.

The first PER Ph.D.s graduated in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, at least a dozen universities included PER groups, which began graduating PER Ph.D.s in the 1990s (Cummings, 2011). These first Ph.D. programs in PER followed three models, which are still in use today:

1.   a Ph.D. completely within the physics department,

2.   a Ph.D. in education with the intellectual home in physics, and

3.   an interdisciplinary degree with the intellectual home in physics.

During the 1990s, students with PER Ph.D.s and physics Ph.D.s who were crossing over to PER as postdoctoral researchers began to join the faculty of physics departments. Between 1998 and 2004, 61 faculty were hired in positions with PER as their area of research (Meltzer et al., 2004).

During the late twentieth century, the organizational wall between education and physics research became more permeable. The American Physical Society (APS) reestablished its Committee on Education in 1973 (originally created in 1920, but discontinued in 1927), added an education officer in 1986, and established a Forum on Education in 1993. In 1999, APS issued a policy statement recognizing PER as part of the research portfolio of a physics department.1 Since that time, the APS has actively promoted the improvement of physics education through PER and the use of PER-based educational practices (Cummings, 2011).

By the 1990s, increasing numbers of scholars were attending special PER sessions at the semiannual AAPT national meetings. Since 1997, the PER community has held its own annual national meeting, typically with more 200 attendees (Cummings, 2011). By the year 2000, PER sessions were held regularly at APS national meetings. With several national and international topical meetings for PER each year, physics education researchers have clearly become a vigorous community.


1For the policy statement, see [accessed April 19, 2012].

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