Professor of Physics, Emeritus
PhD, Harvard University, 1963
BS, MIT, 1955
Peter Heller's earlier research concentrated on the behavior near phase transitions and critical points in condensed matter. Of special interest were the equilibrium (time average) and dynamical (equilibration time) behavior in magnetic systems. This led to a series of experimental studies using nuclear magnetic resonance, neutron scattering, and other techniques. Those experiments also stimulated several lines of computational work, including computer modeling and theoretical work on magnetic systems.
For many years, Heller devoted a major effort to the development of demonstrations, student experiments, and novel instructional approaches in the teaching of physics at levels ranging from high school to graduate school. This has concentrated on electromagnetism, with statistical physics and mechanics also included. The essential philosophy was to emphasize the phenomena and the theoretical approaches which get to the heart of the matter in the most "physical" way, and to provide hands-on approaches to the teaching of fundamental concepts in mathematics and physics.
This approach has met with considerable success. Locally, Heller was the recipient of the university-wide Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching for 1991. More broadly, he served as an educational consultant for individual departments, as well as regional and national groups interested in physics education. The latter include the New England Consortium for Undergraduate Science Education and the Introductory University Physics Project (sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Physics), and the Miami University Physics Education Project.
Heller also served on the Editorial Board of the American Journal of Physics, and as a member of the Examination Committee for the 1993 International Physics Olympiad.
Provost Lisa M. Lynch's letter to the community detailing Heller's career, Feb.20, 2019, a few days after his passing.
Sample of Recent Publications
"Let There Be Light: Introductory Experiments with Electric and Magnetic Fields" (with G.M. Julian). Invited 30 minute paper, American Association of Physics Teachers, San Diego, California, January 2001.
"The Drinking Cup Loud Speaker: A Surprise Demo," The Physics Teacher, September 1997.
"Electromagnetic Waves in Space: Visualization of E and B, and Pedagogical Approaches Using Superposition," Am. J. Phys. 65, 22-25 (1997).
"Analog Demonstrations of Ampere's Law and Magnetic Flux," Am. J. Phys. 60, 17-25 (1992).
"Nitrogen Temperature Superconducting Ring Experiment" (with F. Liu and R. R. Tucker), American Journal of Physics 58, 211-218 (March 1990).