By Ernie Tretkoff
Over 50 lectures on Einstein-related topics have taken place so far this year as part of the World Year of Physics Speakers Program, which is sponsored by the APS Topical Group on Gravitation (GGR) and the Forum on the History of Physics (FHP). The organizers plan to continue the program into 2006.
The program administrators maintain a list of physicists who have volunteered to speak on a wide variety of topics related to Einstein. These physicists are not only experts in their fields, but also known to be effective at speaking to non-specialists.
Groups wanting to request a lecturer fill out an online form, which can be accessed from the World Year of Physics web site, www.physics2005.org, stating their location, the type of group and the topic they wanted to hear about, and the speakers program matches as many of these requests as possible with appropriate speakers.
Organizers say the program has worked extremely well so far. “The WYP Speakers Program has been a success in the eyes of those running it and we have just been plotting the future of the program. The denouement is that the Speakers Program will live on,” said Richard Price, of the University of Texas, Brownsville, who is in charge of the program, along with Virginia Trimble of the University of California, Irvine.
Since the program began about a year ago as a World Year of Physics project to meet the expected need for speakers, there have been 167 requests, many from colleges, but also a number from high schools and even middle schools and community groups, according to Trimble. Of these requests, 53 have been filled so far.
Einstein history–especially his life, theories, and overviews of his 1905 papers–has proved to be the most popular subject. Other topics in demand have included black holes, gravitational waves, and dark energy. Some groups requested general talks on special and general relativity, space and time, and cosmology and astrophysics. More recently, some groups have requested talks on more modern physics topics like nanotechnology, missions to Mars, and Einstein and space. It is expected that the topics may range even wider next year.
The main goal of the speakers program has been to reach students, who might not otherwise have the opportunity to hear such a lecture.This was meant in part to help encourage students receiving bachelor’s degrees in physics to continue in the field. Therefore, four year colleges were given priority in the matching process. In fact, almost all of the requests from four year colleges were met, said Trimble.
Trimble said she was especially pleased that the speakers program had been able to serve some historically black schools including Spelman College and Tuskegee University. The program is also trying to reach institutions that give significant numbers of degrees to women, she said.
Some requests have come from high school, middle school and community groups. These requests have received lower priority so far, but program organizers hope to be able to fill more of those requests as more speakers volunteer.
The FHP and GGR will continue to sponsor the program this fall and into 2006. Groups can still request a speaker by filling out an online form, and the program administrators will try to match an appropriate speaker with the group. The FHP and GGR are also seeking more speakers who are willing to talk at an undergraduate level or high school level about history of physics, Einstein and his contributions, general relativity, and topics in astrophysics related to relativity.
Because the program has worked well so far, the main potential change is the name. They are accepting suggestions, and the best suggestion (from someone who also volunteers to be a speaker) will win a small prize.
To request a speaker: http://www.phys.utb.edu/WYPspeakers/REQUESTS/howto.html
To volunteer to be a speaker: contact Virginia Trimble, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff