APS Gears Up for Minneapolis March Meeting Madness
For those physicists with a taste for something different, the 2000 APS March Meeting - to be held March 20 - 24 in Minneapolis, Minnesota - offers a host of unusual sessions in addition to the usual technical symposia, covering an equally broad range of topics. Adventurous attendees will have the opportunity to hear speakers tackle the continuing flood of pseudoscientific claims; learn how to succeed with a technology-based start-up venture; hear reports on the latest research in the burgeoning field of econophysics; and discover how science can influence legal decisions in the nation's courtrooms.
A far-from-exhaustive sampling of a few of these sessions is provided below, along with a listing of planned special events. APS members are encouraged to browse the full online epitome for the meeting. Unless otherwise indicated, all room listings refer to the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The Truth is Out There
Pseudoscience and superstition are rampant in our society, albeit frequently draped in the language and symbols of science, conclude the featured speakers at two sessions focusing on the foolish and occasionally fraudulent claims of the paranormal. Among them is Joel Achenbach, a journalist with The Washington Post. Achenbach will describe his experiences visiting the set of the popular TV series "The X Files"; traveling to Roswell, NM; meeting with the Mars Society; interviewing a man with plans to build his own spaceship to Alpha Centauri; and being hypnotized in a hotel room to determine whether he himself had ever been abducted by aliens. He will be joined by Michael Shermer of The Skeptics Society and Robert Park, APS director of public affairs and author of the forthcoming book Voodoo Science. (Session G8, Tuesday morning, 101H)
A second session, "The Skeptical Inquirer," will explore a broad range of controversial paranatural topics. Paul Kurtz of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal will discuss the history of hauntings and seances dating back to the notorious Fox sisters in 1848, who, along with other alleged mediums, were discredited as frauds. His colleague, Joe Nickell, will tackle the elaborate mythology - and occasional hoax, such as the notorious "alien autopsy" film - that has sprung up around the modern UFO craze, along with the popular fascination with alien abductions, dating back to the Roswell crash in 1947. Unlike so-called mediums, he finds that most alien abduction reports appear to be sincere, although unauthenticated, and investigators believe such claims are rooted in psychological factors. The University of Hawaii's Victor Stenger will target alternative medicine and other misuses of physics concepts. Finally, the recent Kansas evolution controversy provides an ideal backdrop for Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science, who will discuss the "new kid on the antievolutionist block": Intelligent Design Creationism, whose most prominent practitioners are academics associated with secular universities. (Session M8, Wednesday morning, 101H)
Popularizing Science for Undergraduates
Lui Lam, a professor of physics at San Jose State University, outlines the usefulness of integrating popular science books into introductory physics classes, which are generally comprised of undergraduates with no intention of majoring in physics. "We want our college graduates to be informed about science matters, but there is no textbook available that teaches truly multiple disciplines for freshmen," he laments. He believes a solution might lie in the plethora of general interest nonfiction books about science, which are frequently written by the pioneers themselves or exceptionally gifted science writers, and combine ease of comprehension with an entertaining style to pique students' interest in science. "These are the places to learn how research and discovery are being done in very recent times," he says. (Session B6, Monday morning, 103AB)
Secrets of Entrepreneurial Success
New businesses based on innovative science and technology have been the driving force for the US economy for the last 25 years, according to Alexander Glass of the Bay Area Regional Technology Alliance, a featured speaker at a Monday morning session exploring physicists' experiences with start-up companies. Although thousands of scientists and engineers receive funding for establishing new, technology-based companies each year, many experience difficulty making the transition from a technology to a market focus. Glass will be joined by representatives/founders of Siros Technologies, New Focus Inc., IME Corporation, and JDS Uniphase, all sharing their experiences and advice for others interested in following in their footsteps. (Session B5, Monday morning, 102C.)
Bullish on Wall Street
Over the last decade, the number of PhD physicists employed in the financial community has increased dramatically. Once considered something of an anomaly, physicists have become a critical element to successful investment strategies. Wall Street provides a real-life laboratory for exploring complex nonlinear systems, and as a result, today the field of "econophysics" has moved beyond the fringe into the research mainstream. Speakers at a Wednesday afternoon session will describe a broad range of recent research centered on econophysics: critical phenomena in economics, the growth of complex organizations, the application of random matrix theory to economics, and elements for developing a theory of financial risk. (Session P5, Wednesday afternoon, 102C)
Physics and the Long Arm of the Law
Although most physics research takes place far from the courtroom, physics principles nevertheless are critical to settling numerous legal controversies, such as lawsuits claiming that cellular phones and electromagnetic fields cause cancer. Susan Poulter of the University of Utah will discuss the impact of recent science-based decisions of the US Supreme Court, which attempt to set standards for screening expert testimony on scientific topics to help trial judges distinguish good science from bad. Also speaking will be Aaron Manka of the National Science Foundation on how his agency handles allegations of scientific misconduct, and the University of Chicago's Mary Ellen Sheridan will discuss the impact of new Freedom of Information Act requirements on academic researchers. Former APS Treasurer Harry Lustig (University of New Mexico) will close the session with a summary of the Society's 10-year involvement in a lawsuit with scientific publisher Gordon and Breach. (Session E5, Tuesday morning, 102C.)
Sci-Trek: The Next Generation
Undergraduate physics majors from Hendrix College will present results from a wide range of physics projects at a special session highlighting undergraduate research, sponsored by the Society of Physics Students. Because of their extreme sensitivity and dynamic range, large laser ring interferometers are promising candidates for studying geophysical phenomena, according to Hendrix student Chelsey Bryant, whose senior project focused on employing the instrument for just such a purpose. Her fellow Hendrix students Eric Mortenson and Matt Reason worked with semiconductor laser models, while John Hunter Mack chose to focus on noninvasive detection of metallic ions in a hybrid plume. (Session B13, Monday morning, 103F.)
It Takes a Global Village
In today's world without walls, international collaboration in physics is critical, particularly for large science projects, such as the Large Hadron Collider, and international concerns are thus moving to the foreground of the scientific enterprise. James Vary, representing UNESCO and the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics at Iowa State University, will describe how advances in high-speed digital communications have enabled the development of "virtual laboratories" to bridge geographical boundaries between scientists. David Pines will examine the importance of an open scientific environment at Los Alamos National Laboratory to science-based national security, and review unexpected consequences of recent actions taken by the US Congress and Department of Energy. Elisa Munoz of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will give an overview of current violations of scientific freedom and human rights in various countries. (Session B7, Monday morning, 101J)
Fostering a warm and welcoming atmosphere for women scientists in industry is the focus of Sue Chang, a researcher at Xerox's Wilson Center for Research and Technology, who is a featured speaker at a session sponsored by the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics. Chang will outline successful climate strategies employed by Xerox to improve the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in its workforce. Since 1991, the number of women hired and promoted at Xerox has been steadily increasing, and the company was cited three times by major professional women's magazines as a top company for working women in 1998. (Session H3, Tuesday afternoon, 101FG)
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