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By Desirée Scorcia
Last summer, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) began a summer internship program with just one student. This summer, the organization, which is run by the American Institute of Physics and describes itself as "the professional society for physics students and their mentors", expanded its efforts and placed five undergraduates in eight-week internships at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and in the SPS office at the American Center for Physics
(ACP) in College Park, MD. The ACP is also the headquarters of the APS.
On August 13, the SPS held a closing ceremony for their interns at the ACP. There, the students gave 20-minute presentations on their summer's work to their family members, coworkers, and fellow physicists. Though the students all had very different jobs, they agreed that the internships were a worthwhile educational experience.
Brent Janus interned at the Goddard Space Flight Center's laboratory for extraterrestrial physics. There, under Dr. Larry Evans, he analyzed gamma ray spectrometer readings from the Near Earth Rendezvous mission.
White says for him, one of the best things about studying physics as an undergraduate was that it taught him how to be a student.
|The 2002 SPS Summer Interns |
Photo by: Desirées Scorcia
The 2002 SPS summer interns at their closing session on August 13. The group is modeling the light diffracting glasses and holding equipment that is part of the educational SPS Outreach Catalyst Kit (SOCK) Tabeling and Glas put together. From left to right: Jason Tabeling, Lauren Glas, Eva Wilcox, Katie Peek, and Brent Janus.
"One thing I really appreciated about the internship," Janus said, "was the opportunity to work with an actual space mission - something that prior to June, I had only learned about by watching 30 second clips on CNN. Then I found myself the first week in July accessing the data from the mission. I went from being a college student to a NASA employee."
Janus is a double major in physics and political science at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. He will graduate in 2003.
Katie Peek graduated from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts this spring, with a double major in physics and astronomy. Katie also interned with NASA at the Space Flight Center.
"I spent the summer looking at dust in the solar corona," Peek said. "My goal was to look at populations of dust near the sun, and to explore possible problems with sending a probe there."
Eva Wilcox graduated this spring from Brigham Young University in Utah with a major in physics teaching. She interned for the summer at NIST, where she studied spectroscopic ellipso-metry repeatability and the Hafnium Dielectric.
"I interned with NIST for three years through the SURF [Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship] program," Wilcox said, "and their internships are at NIST. Going through the SPS, I got to be in the central location for physics. It was so interesting to meet all of these people and see who's behind the scenes."
Wilcox is teaching English this semester in Hefei, China. She will start studying for her master's degree in physics at Brigham Young University when she returns.
Lauren Glas worked for the SPS national office at the American Center for Physics.
"I didn't have a typical science internship," Glas said, "but I had one that really fit my education. Coming here and getting a chance to go to the hill was amazing. I thought that there weren't a lot of people interested in changing science policy before I got here, but I realized that it's not that policy doesn't change and people don't care, but that the system is huge, and it takes a long time to change."
Glas worked on a project called the SPS Outreach Catalyst Kit (SOCK). The SOCK looks like a denim Christmas stocking and is filled with materials that can be used for SPS physics outreach programs. The SOCK Glas designed is called "Dimensions in Physics," and contains foam shapes that can be used for scaling exercises and rainbow glasses that demonstrate how light bends. They will be used by students of all ages.
The fifth intern, Jason Tabeling, also interned at the SPS national office. There, he created a website to help publicize the William F. and Edith R. Meggers Project Award, which has gotten few applicants over the past few years. He also helped Glas prepare the SOCK kit.
"I got pretty good at using a turkey carver to cut mattress foam for the shapes," he joked.
"There are a lot of people who think physics is hard to understand," Tabeling said. "The public perception isn't always positive. One question I tried to answer was, 'educating people about physics is difficult, so how can we make it easier?' "
Tabeling graduates this year with a double major in physics and math, and minors in astronomy and Spanish from Virginia Tech.
The interns' advisors were very excited about what the students accomplished over the summer.
"Katie's report will be required reading for engineers that are going back into solar mission research," said Fred Herrero, her advisor at NASA. "I'm very enthusiastic about the work that she has done."
The internship program began last summer with Mark Lentz, a physics major from the Northwestern State University SPS chapter. The internship, which pays a $2,500 stipend in addition to living and travel expenses, is accepting applications for next summer.
SPS members interested in applying should visit the SPS website at http://www.spsnational.org/programs/internships/ to download the application form, or contact Liz Dart Caron at (301) 209-3034 for more information.
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