On April 17 and 18, the GW Society of Physics Students (SPS) hosted the SPS Zone meeting, where students from all over the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia came together for a true physics celebration. Almost thirty students from eleven different campuses gathered to learn about various aspects of physics, prepare for life after undergraduate studies, and to present themselves, their research, and some very exciting physics demonstrations, to other students and faculty.
The kick-off was on Friday evening with a lecture by Daniel Golombek, currently the Manager for Membership & Leadership at the SPS National Office, but for a large part of his career involved in the Hubble Space Telescope mission at the Space Telescope & Science Institute. He captivated the audience with some of the most beautiful astrophysical pictures ever made, showcasing many great results from Hubbles’s 25 years in space. On Saturday morning, the astrophysics theme was continued in an inspiring lecture by Chryssa Kouveliotou, former Senior Scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and now the newest professor in the GW Physics Department. She discussed what it takes to be an astrophysicist, what the rewards and challenges are, and presented a long-term vision for the future of astrophysics. She also showed how theoretical computations, simulations, and observations across the electromagnetic spectrum need to come together to understand some of the most enigmatic phenomena in the Universe: Gamma-Ray Bursts.
After enjoying the talks, it was time for the students to present their research in the poster session. The topics covered in the posters varied across almost all physics disciplines, so both students and faculty present had an opportunity to learn a lot about research outside of their own fields: electromagnetic levitation; research that might lead to skin patches to monitor health; even an explanation as to how geckos scale walls! At the poster prize ceremony in the evening, the jury, consisting of faculty members from different universities, remarked that the overall level of the posters was very high, but that they were even more impressed by the standard of the presetations made by the students, the depth of their knowledge. and how well they explained their research.
Saturday afternoon began with a graduate student panel, in which the SPS students could ask graduate students in different physics fields about their experiences of applying for graduate school, taking graduate level classes, and doing research, which led to vivid discussions. This was followed by a physics-related treasure hunt on the GW campus, and several demonstrations of fun physics experiments by many of the students. The outreach demonstrations included a vacuum gun with ping pong balls, which crushed soda cans to dramatic effect; simulating supernova explosions with bouncing disks; predicting the rolling speed of differently shaped objects; playing with non-Newtonian fluids, leaving some of the faculty covered in cornstarch; and making and eating liquid nitrogen ice cream.
The final event of the day was a workshop by Sean Bentley, the Director of the SPS National Office. He presented the American Institute of Physics Career Toolbox, discussed the various options there are after finishing undergraduate studies in physics, and engaged the students in some exercises to demonstrate how to build their resume and prepare for job interviews.
The SPS Zone Meeting at GW was a great success! The hard work of the GW students in the preparations and throughout the meeting under the invaluable guidance of Professor Gary White, and the enthusiasm of all the students present at the meeting led to a very successful meeting which helped prepare the next generation of physicists and was thoroughly enjoyed by all!
(Pictures courtesy of the NOVA Community College SPS group)