Professor of Physics
Bernstein is actively engaged in innovative education, especially a variety of efforts to go beyond course-based learning. His current vision includes a modernized version of Dewey’s “transformative” education and means for implementing the paradigm shift from teaching to learning at all levels of education. This work connects directly to his philosophically-based socially relevant efforts through Hampshire’s institute for science and interdisciplinary studies (ISIS institute).
Bernstein holds a B.A. from Columbia and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at San Diego, all in physics. He was a post-doctoral member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, where he is now emeritus on the alumni board of trustees, an organization for which he served as nominating chair for two decades. The American Physical Society cited Bernstein's broad impact on science when electing him APS Fellow in 2003. Their citation mentions pioneering work at the start of two fields of physics and unique contribution to the understanding of science-and-society issues through the Institute for Science at Hampshire. He is a co-founder of the Anacapa Society, a national professional association of research theoretical physicists working at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions.
Bernstein was a Mina Shaughnessy Scholar, a Kellogg National Leadership Fellow, and recipient of a Sigma Xi Science Honor Society award (with Victor F. Weisskopf's 1984 Procter Prize). He is a Five College "40th Anniversary" professor and winner of their (academic year 2013-4) Jackie Pritzen Prize for public scholarship. He also holds the Hampshire Oscar award for Best Adviser and received the 2015 Gruber Award for advising.
His teaching and research interests include science and society; the effects of modern knowledge; quantum communication: interferometry, information and teleportation; and theoretical modern physics. He is president and chief scientist of ISIS Institute at Hampshire, the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies.
His unique and distinguished approach to the sciences is best represented by the history of the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies, reflected in its website; the projects on military waste cleanup; quantum teleportation; Amazon ecology; and genomics and the ongoing Bohm Scientists' Dialogue have implemented the Institute's philosophy as outlined in Muddling Through.
During a recent sabbatical Professor Bernstein split his time on two coasts as a visiting professor, UCSB (University of California at Santa Barbara), and a visiting scholar in the Draper Program at NYU (New York University). He is author and co-author of two books; many, many scientific papers; and holder of a U.S. patent.
A first course of college physics with labs for scientists and engineers (and for serious philosophers), this class takes quantum mechanics as its content. Using two-state systems including electron spin and photon polarization, we develop the actual quantum theory in its matrix mechanics form. That theory underlies our current understanding of atoms, particles, and virtually all physical processes: it is fundamental to the modern physics behind nuclear applications, electronic devices and lasers. Our course content is relevant to quantum teleportation, computation and information, AND it has important philosophical consequences as well. Quantum mechanics underlies all chemistry and molecular processes, including biology. The math we use is serious and taught within the syllabus, especially using linear algebra, complex numbers and trigonometry, but we need only a minimum of calculus. This course has three themes: quantitative approximations to interesting phenomena; formal use of mathematics to describe observations; the philosophical and cultural significance of interpretations of physical theory. In effect students confront material exactly as modern physicists confront Nature: you must work cooperatively because impossible puzzles have to be converted into problems. Problems of difficulty ranging from "almost too easy" to "OMG hard" must then be solved. Despite knowing principles and theoretical frameworks, having participated in their development, only gradually does the meaning emerge from the mathematical manipulations. (The meaning is quite personal, yours may not be identical to the instructors', or that of expert popularizers, or of your peers.)
From energy systems, to economic crises, to protection against terrorists; from supplying new food organisms, to drone warfare in the Middle East; our modern society turns to science for solutions. But the sciences also proliferate side effects -- ranging from toxic military pollution, through unforeseen biological disruption, to global warming & political backlash. Do we need "new ways of knowing" to address the personal/political problem of combining disciplinary excellence with social good? Participants study reconstructive knowledge and APPLY it to their own work. We read the instructor's two books and those of Foucault, Keller, etc., to help reconstruct what we each DO as knowledge workers -- our projects, concentrations & theses. The real-world efforts at ISIS (Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Study) help launch creative discussion of our own work. Previous students commend this course for remarkable effects in divisional work, graduate school, and their professional lives. Prerequisites: some experience with critical analysis and a well-developed (undergraduate) field of excellence.
Course teaches "hard" science by making it relevant and accessible. The full introductory physics, with mathematics at the level of algebra and trigonometry is enlivened by examples from everyday devices and experiences. Our lecture-discussion format includes assisting student designed independent projects that acquire more scientific/mathematical sophistication through many stages of paper development and revision. We usually cover mechanics (the science of motion and its causes) as well as Electricity & Magnetism up to basic electronics. But enlivening is real: for example, ice skating and bumper cars exemplify mechanics; static electricity is taught using Xerographic copying as its application. We learn the theory of Maxwell's Equations in seeing how trash is sorted in a recycling crusher, pollution trapped in smokestack cleaners, and high tension electric distribution is designed to save money. This year we experiment with becoming a Teaching-Learning Community; while the nominal aim would be to have as many as half of our meetings out of the classroom, we will work together to design the trade-off between covering science topics and learning "from Life." One TLC component is already clear, participation in such activities of the Institute for Sciences as seminar talks, study groups and monthly dialogues. Our learning goals include all five Natural Science school aims for Div I: Empowering your own topic & paper; Understanding how sciences work; Learning their social contexts -- and effects; Developing quantitative skills (math. YES!); Acquiring presentation skills, especially for writing a science paper. The textbook will be Louis A. Bloomfield's "How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life, 5th edition" if we can get them-as supplemented by problems from the 2nd ed. (I think we're required by Federal law to provide textbook info these days, at least the law as interpreted by our college Administration, no?)