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Optical Design & Engineering

Kathy Perkins: Science simulations facilitate STEM education, develop problem-solving skills

A multilingual resource for science instruction around the world, PhET offers interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena.

8 November 2013, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201311.02

Kathy Perkins directs the award-winning PhET Interactive Simulations Project at University of Colorado Boulder, a collection of over 100 interactive simulations for teaching and learning science that are used over 40 million times per year.

Perkins began her career with an undergraduate degree in physics and worked for a stint as an environmental consultant, before pursuing a graduate degree in experimental atmospheric science at Harvard University. Looking for more direct societal impact, she transitioned to physics education research in 2003 as a post-doctoral researcher with Novel Laureate Carl Wieman. Since then, her work in science education research has focused on advancing STEM education through several avenues, including work and research on pedagogically effective design and use of interactive simulations, sustainable course reform, students' beliefs about science, and institutional change.

For teachers and students around the world, the PhET project provides interactive simulations that are based on extensive education research and support more effective science education. Going beyond traditional educational resources, PhET simulations offer an intuitive, game-like environment where students can learn through scientist-like exploration, where dynamic visual representations make the invisible visible, and where science ideas are connected to real-world phenomena.

In 2011, the Tech Awards, a signature program of The Tech Museum, and presented by Applied Materials, Inc., selected PhET as one of three laureates for the Microsoft Education Award -- out of over 600 nominations representing 54 countries.