Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Summer 2005 Newsletter



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Undergraduates Celebrate the World Year of Physics!

Gary White, American Institute of Physics

The celebration of Einstein's Miracle Year is about half over, but it seems as though physics students nationwide have already indulged in a full year or more of activities. Loads of outreach events, regional physics meetings, and research events mark this year as an exceptionally good time to be doing physics.


Imagine a roomful of kids eagerly connecting wires to batteries and bulbs to see if their prediction for making light is right. If this image seems unlikely to you, just ask the physics students at Chicago State University for help in visualizing it. Geraldine Cochran, Tim Vanderleest and Virginia Hayes wrote the outreach proposal funded by the SPS through the Marsh White Outreach Award program, with guidance from Professors Mel Sabella and Justin Akujieze. They have a knack for this stuff, including middle school and high school visits, a rocket-launch, and science fair assistance. To see more about their efforts and those of other groups, see

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Another class at Estabrook Elementary in Ypsilanti, Michigan, was really impressed with the electrifying science exhibits “Zap It!” led by Dr. Diane Jacobs and her students at Eastern Michigan University; one student showed her enthusiasm in a hand-written letter (at left) that speaks volumes. For more details go to


Want to know where a great swath of future physics graduate students can be found? Try an SPS zone meeting where undergraduate physics majors share their research, listen to cutting edge physics talks, and socialize. There were 17 zone meetings across the country this past year like the one below in Louisiana, complete with student presentations from nine campuses, a public Einstein lecture, and a crawfish boil!

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As another example, check out the SPS Zone 3 Spring Meeting at, which was hosted by The College of New Jersey with help from Drew University. There were 87 participants from the following institutions: Drew University, East Stroudsburg University, Georgian Court University, Lehigh University, Lycoming College, New York University, Rider University, Rutgers University at Camden, Seton Hall University, The College of New Jersey and the University of Delaware. Events included a tour of the laboratories and a riveting question-and-answer session with four recent physics graduates who had progressed in non-traditional physics careers. For details from other zone meetings, see .


Thousands of undergraduates participate in physics research each year, some at their own campus and others through the NSF supported Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. When it is time to present their research many students choose to participate in national physics meetings such as the recent APS meeting in Tampa Bay. Students from the University of Central Florida descended upon the meeting as well and submitted a full report, including an interview with string theorist and author Brian Greene. (

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Want to know more about bucky-dumbbells? Ask Olga Ovchinnikov, an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee working with Dr. Robert Compton. What about the ascending double cone? Sohang Gandhi at the University of Central Florida, working with Dr. Costas Efthimiou, has completed the definitive treatment of this ubiquitous science demonstration. Sohang is kneeling at the right, posing with the rest of the APS undergraduate presenters and their glowing WYP2005 LED pens.

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HOW DO YOU GET YOUR STUDENTS INVOLVED? Who can resist a Top Ten List, especially when it chock-full of ways to get your students engaged in the World Year of Physics? Try some of these ideas out for size:

Top ten ideas for celebrating the World Year of Physics:

10) Solve a physics problem to win prizes; see the Physics Challenges at

9) Put a WYP message and the website in your email salutations.

8) Sponsor a local physics trivia contest,

7) Get a free Einstein poster as long as supplies last; email us

6) Join in the WYP discussion threads at The Nucleus,

5) Conduct your own science demonstration event in a local school or mall. Get ideas here:

4) Attend an SPS Zone meeting ( were 17 last year, so there's probably one near you this year

3) Check out the WYP events calendar, or post your own event at . There's something for everyone, from drama and music to pumpkin flinging and open houses to conferences and renowned lecturers.

2) Go shopping for WYP T-shirts, WYP promotional kits, cool multi-LED pens, etc. Email us at or see

And the number 1 way to celebrate the World Year of Physics is:

1) Detect gravity waves! Sign up for Einstein@Home; see for details. (next article)

Gary White received his Ph.D. in nuclear theory at Texas A & M University (TAMU) in 1986, but would rather talk about his more recent work on the physics of Spandex. Lately, his interests have also migrated towards pedagogy, especially the use of science research as a teaching and outreach tool. In addition to a 3-year stint teaching mathematics at TAMU, he has taught physics and astronomy at Northwestern State University of Louisiana, and now is the Director of the Society of Physics Students and the Assistant Director of Education for the American Institute of Physics.



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