The First PERC?

posted by Steve Maier, Northwestern Oklahoma State on

Photo of people at the first PERC in 1997

Photo of people at the first PERC in 1997

Did you know PERC 1997 was the first PERC paired with AAPT?  It was framed as a workshop that ran 2 days prior to the 1997 summer AAPT meeting. There were 65 registrants (a set limit) and the schedule can be found here: 

The opening sessions were titled

  • Poster session of research projects. Posters are limited to those research efforts which are assessing student learning of topics which are normally taught in physics and astronomy courses at any academic level
  • Panel discussion on what other disciplines can contribute to physics education research
  • Education of a PER grad student
  • Cracker Barrel session on present research
    • only grad students & postdocs could make presentations
    • there was a 2 slide limit!

The second day’s focus was on building concept inventories “that work,” qualitative research methods, & publishing in PER.

So what’s changed since 1997 in PERC, and what remains the same?

  1. PER is still hard at work on methods, inventories & publications
  2. There are now undergrads doing PER!
  3. PER interacts with many disciplines
  4. . . . what else?  Were you there??  Share a memory and/or your thoughts in a reply to this post!


[Content for this blog post was originally published on Twitter @perc2020 on 8/1/2019]

Tags: PERC  conference  history  

Attached File: perc1997b.jpg

Re: The First PERC? -
Michael Wittmann
14 Posts

To add to some historical context, the 1997 meeting was inspired in large part by the "gap day" that was organized between the International Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education (ICUPE 1996) and the AAPT meeting held in College Park, MD at the University of Maryland. The ICUPE itself was fabulous success, with a large 2 volume conference proceedings with some fabulous papers - but people also recognized that there were problems with the conference-based publishing model (see below). I should say that the 1996 ICUPE (and this mindset of PER-focused conferences) was preceded by the 1991 Bremen conference (again, really influential conference proceedings in the 90s) and the 1992 or 1993 conference on the use of computers in physics. 

Among other things, the first ad hoc organization of grad students in physics education research was put together during the ICUPE/AAPT "interval day." You can see that history at in a hilariously 90s web page.

The interval day was also a place for a very important discussion about journals for PER, which planted the seeds for the Physics Education Research Supplement in AJP, which then started up soon after and was seen as a bridge to something, nobody knew what, but eventually became with Phys Rev PER. 

Given the success of the 1996 interval day, a PERC seemed possible (and the cut-off of 65 people was so ambitious! were there even 65 who could attend?!). I am sure I have notes and stories from all the early PERCs, being lucky enough to have been in Joe Redish's research group at the time. If you want more of the historical context of the PERCs, he's definitely one to ask about the precursor meetings. It was a fun time to be in PER. There's more on this broader picture at for those who want to know more.

It's also crazy fun to go to and click on the conference websites for each of the early PERCs. I was struck by the content of the 1999 meeting, but the others are just as good...

Tags: PERC  conference  history  

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

Re: The First PERC? -
Laura McCullough
3 Posts

At the grad student session, I remember Andy Johnson (then at San Diego State U) saying he was thinking that his dissertation topic would be "how do people learn?". We, his fellow grad students, suggested he work on focusing that down a little. It still makes me smile to think of this.

PERC 20/20 Conference

PERC 20/20 website
PERC 20/20 twitter
Email us at

PERC 20/20 Conference Blog


AAPT aapt aas anti-blackness aps APS astronomy biology education research computation physics education conference History history identity Identity institution type organizing PER PER Identity PERC PERC 20/20 Organizers physics policing racism research research areas science communication social event Solo PER SOTL teaching

Blog Archive

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

February 2020

December 2019

November 2019

October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019