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I am a senior-level Physics/General Science/Secondary Education Major at Grove City College (Pennsylvania) and plan to become a high school physics teacher. During the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to work on the PhysicsQuest:SPECTRA comic book sponsored by the American Physical Society. SPETRCA is targeted at middle-school science classes with the intent of providing a medium to present physics in an exciting and engaging way to students. The heroine is a middle-school teenage girl, Spectra, who finds that she can turn herself into a laser. Through her many adventures she saves her friends and school from disaster due to Miss Alignment, General Relativity, and Maxwell’s Demon. The comic book is part of a kit which includes an instruction guide and materials needed to perform experiments that are featured in the story; the most notable of these were diffraction grating experiments which relate to when Spectra first discovers her super power. The PhysicsQuest:SPECTRA comic kits are available for free from APS through an online form (you can register at the PhysicsQuest web page). Downloadable versions of the comics are also available on the Physics Central web site. This year’s theme and experiments focus on fluid dynamics; my job was to create extension activities to supplement the fluid dynamics featured in the comic book.
Being a student who had previously only worked on experiments that had been “debugged” in advance, the task of creating demonstrations was a new experience. It was very enjoyable to be a part of the process of researching, testing, refining, and explaining experiments. The most interesting part of my research came when I was looking for experiments to demonstrate Bernoulli’s Principle. While working on experiments to describe the physics of lift and flight I discovered a “new” debate which involved the Coanda effect (where a fluid jet tends to be attracted to a nearby surface) and Bernoulli’s Principle. Some researchers are questioning the traditional Bernoulli’s Principle explanation of flight dynamics, and are turning to rely more on the Coanda effect as capturing better scientific understanding.
Among the many lessons I learned while developing these experiments, two stand out most prominently. The first is that experiments always look great on paper, but require a lot of refinements when they are being developed and performed. The second is that there is nothing that can stop you from creating an effective and exciting experiment. A requirement for these experiments is that they can be completed with supplies that you can find around you every day, such as coffee straws, Frisbees, sand piles, hand soap, and food coloring. There is an amazing amount of physics surrounding us at all times; if you are creative and have some perseverance, there is no end to the simple experiments that can be developed.
My internship with the APS provided me with more than just experience with developing demonstrations; I also experienced a sense of the enormity of the science world. I had the opportunity to meet many prominent scientists, and attend a variety of social events and conferences hosted by the society. A large part of the internship experience is making connections and exploring the vast world of science around us. When looking for internships or research opportunities, choose a program that both fits your interests and expands your horizons; be sure to look into any programs that have a national or global scale. As an undergraduate, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to meet and make connections with scientists within an educational setting.
I would like to thank Becky Thompson, who was my supervisor for the PhysicsQuest:SPECTRA comic, as well as Kendra Redmond, who set up my internship opportunity with the American Physical Society through the Society of Physics Students. I would also like to thank the voters at the SPS 2012 Quadrennial Congress for selecting my work for second place in physics outreach.