Astronomy & Physics

Creative Collaborative Discovery in Physics and Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy form the basis of modern civilization. Our energy grids and engines are built on mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics. Every electronic device relies on quantum mechanics, and GPS systems need general relativity to inform us how light travels in spacetime. To empower our majors to be full citizens of our universe capable of solving real-world problems, we foster under-the-hood hardware and coding skills through new facilities: a new High-Performance Computational Studio, a newly refurbished Student Machine Shop and Tinkering Studio, and reformed Radio and Optical Astrophysics Labs that give students complete control over equipment and tools, many of which they will create themselves.

Physics will be brought to life through curriculum reforms that emphasize on-the-fly, order-of-magnitude thinking and inductive reasoning skills crucial for research. Knowledge and opportunities will be shared through a new Physics and Astronomy (PA) Scholars program, open to all and especially the under-represented. Student-driven and faculty-supported, the PA Scholars community will provide peer advising and group mentoring, plus a variety of paid student leadership positions, including Scholar Tutors to help majors and non-majors alike with coursework; Scholar Techs to innovate new learning modules in labs; and Scholar Advisers to organize career development workshops and community-building events.

Student wearing green sweater and lab goggles works on a machine while a professor and another student wearing lab goggles stand by.

The Peer Tutor Program

Our Peer Tutor program for Physics & Astronomy was initiated under Discovery and has grown tremendously. We selected by competitive application 17 Physics and Astronomy majors in Fall 2022, and 17 in Spring 2023, to serve as Tutors across our entire lower-division and upper-division majors curriculum. The Peer Tutor program is a 3-way partnership between our Discover faculty and staff who recruit and select the Tutors; the MPS Dean who provides TAS funding to pay them hourly wages; and the Student Learning Center (SLC) who onboard and train the Tutors in best pedagogic practices. The Tutor program is a win-win combination: not only do the students who come to see the Tutors benefit, but the Tutors themselves deepen their understanding of the material by teaching it.

The Growth of Peer Tutoring in Astronomy/Physics at UC Berkeley

The figure at right charts Peer Tutor usage rates since the inception of the program. Each sign-in (blue) represents one student coming to see one Peer Tutor for help.  Many of the students who come for help come more than once. Unique student IDs are marked in red. In fall 2021, there were almost 500 visits, gowing to almost 1500 visits by spring 2023 semester. The number of unique students who used peer tutoring grew from about 150 to about 300 by spring 2023. For reference, there are a total of ~100 Astrophysics majors and ~500 Physics majors at Berkeley.

Chart showing the increase in peer tutor engagement in the Astronomy/Physics Course
Peer tutors were super helpful, especially since they had taken the class before
Physics Student
There are too few GSIs to help all of the students in the lab, so the 2 undergraduate peer tutors really ensured that more people got the help they needed. Definitely hire more peer tutors!
Physics Student