Department Contact Information

Physics Department

Location: 180-204
Phone: (805) 756-2448
Fax: (805) 756-2435
Chair: Robert Echols


Support Physics

Peter Schwartz


Peter SchwartzPeter Schwartz


Office: 180-608
Phone: 805.756.1220


  • Ph.D., Princeton University, 1998
  • M.S., Princeton University, 1993
  • B.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1986

Research Interests

I’m interested in sustainability in all facets: energy, resources, and collaboration and community building especially with people in developing countries. In what I see as an imminent transition in energy, resources, and information, I am interested in both the technologies and the related societal transitions. I transitioned to sustainability research from nanotechnology in 2006 due to a realization after I purchased a house for the first time: that I would now hold myself accountable for the way I live. The changes to our house and lifestyle make our home a laboratory, documented in this video. Subsequently, I took sabbatical in the Energy and Resources Group at UC, Berkeley. Besides physics, I teach classes on Appropriate Technology, and Energy, Society, and the Environment. Taught via online videos, all my course content freely available on my Shared Curriculum Website.

I’m presently very interested in implementation of solar panels to DC loads in “smart” DC homes. Simple “Moore’s Law” extrapolation of the well-established price decrease of both photovoltaic (PV) panels and integrated circuits will render these technologies essentially free. Already the cost of PV panels is a small portion of the cost related to PV deployment. How will free solar electricity and processors affect the way we use energy? I anticipate emergence of off grid direct DC power use, especially in but not limited to where there is no reliable grid electricity. Additionally, energy production, distribution, and use will become more diversified with hybrid grid/off-grid electricity systems that make use of solar electricity when the sun shines. We are developing the related hardware, patent pending. In our quest to explore how free PV will change our lives, we have received about 2 kW of solar panels as part of a donation to Cal Poly from SunPower and A. M. Sun Solar is installing them as part of a collaborative effort.  I am working with research students to consider implementations at my home, on campus, At the SLO MakerSpace (where I am a board member), and at the Student Experimental Farm (where I am the projects facilitator).

One particular interest is cooking in developing countries. Presently the traditional “3 stone fires” consume resources, tax families’ time and financial resources, produce CO2 and emit other pollutants. Our provisionally patented Photovoltaic Electric Cooking technologies may be important in poor communities by displacing biomass fires and the associated deforestation and indoor air pollution responsible for an estimated 4 million deaths annually - more than malaria and AIDS combined. The technology is briefly described in this video from a conference of Solar Cookers International and our research group is further developing the technology while groups of students from appropriate technology classes are exploring opportunities to collaboratively introduce these technologies at the grass roots level with AidAfrica in Uganda, as well as in Rwanda and Ghana.

I am also exploring an alternative way to teach physics classes, and in particular for introductory mechanics where I have invoked what I call “Parallel Pedagogy” in a flipped classroom methodology based on video lectures. All my materials for the class can be accessed via my classes website and more specifically in the website dedicated to Introductory Mechanics. Most specifically, the learning model is described in this short video. I’ve also developed a video curriculum for Energy, Society, and the Environment, a class I’ve directed since 2007. These classes and the websites are under continual development, and I’m happy to communicate with interested instructors.


Please access my videos and resources dedicated to "Energy, Society, and the Environment" at this website.

We have been teaching collaborative appropriate technology classes at Cal Poly since 2007 when I introduced them to the curriculum. You can see some of our projects at: Our Appropriate Technology Classes.

We also started a collaborative summer school in a small Guatemalan mountain village to explore collaborative learning with Guatemalan and Californian students.





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