Department Contact Information

Physics Department

Location: 180-204
Phone: (805) 756-2448
Fax: (805) 756-2435
Chair: Karl Saunders

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.


Our research team develops radically inexpensive DDS (Direct DC Solar): using DC electricity directly from solar panels. 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. 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 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 publication and video. Our research group and students from appropriate technology classes are exploring opportunities to collaboratively introduce these technologies along with domestic lighting and cell phone charging systems at the grass roots level with AidAfrica in Uganda, and Kuyere! In Malawi.


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 have published this paper in The Physics Teacher. 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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