Image of Physical Science Study Committee Physical Science Study Committee
Physical Science Study Committee

In 1956, Professors Jerrold Zacharias and Francis Friedman convened a group of high school and university science teachers to discuss the state of physics education. Barely a year later, the launch of the Sputnik satellite prompted the U.S. government to focus time and money on reforming basic science education, boosting support for the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) and enabling it to become a nationwide program. The PSSC produced textbooks, films, experimental apparatus, and auxiliary materials for high school classrooms, emphasizing a hands-on, experimental approach to physics. Everything about the project was outstanding—from the high-quality cinematography of the films to the exceptional photographs that accompanied the main textbook. The Smithsonian Institution even created a traveling exhibition of Berenice Abbott’s striking project photographs, including the two images shown in the exhibition, extending the influence of what is considered the largest and most important reform of U.S. high school physics instruction.

“Circular Wave System,” 1960
“The Parabolic Mirror Has a Thousand Eyes,” c. 1958–1960
Berenice Abbott

photo: MIT Museum Collection
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