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[an error occurred while processing this directive] SPS Zone 17 Meeting Report—Spring 2006

By Andrew Hayles, Green River Community College


On March 24th and 25th of 2006 the SPS Chapter at Green River Community College hosted a zone meeting (i.e. Zone 17, which includes Washington State, Oregon, northern Idaho and Alaska) in concert with the PNACP (Pacific Northwest Association for College Physics) meeting taking place at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA.

The main topic for the PNACP meeting was geophysics. We enjoyed speakers from around the country who gave presentations on such topics as the physics of the Earth’s interior and how to make subsurface measurements, technologies for early warning for natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes, visualizing the interiors of rocks with x-ray tomography and the physics of motor-cycles.


Richard Wiener whose speech was entitled, “Hubbert's Peak in a toy model of Oil Extraction” gave me my first introduction to differential equations (very appropriately before my first class) which he used to model oil extraction in what ended up being a graph of a bell curve which represented the global maximum rate of extraction (which we are close to now) and then the ensuing downward trend (which carries its own negative implications for our society particularly).

During the lunch break we toured the Keck Observatory located on the PLU campus. Yes, they did receive some funds from the Keck foundation that also funded the larger, more famous telescope. Later in the evening we attended and enjoyed a lecture by Robert Butler from the University of Portland who spoke about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and methods of monitoring it and other volcanoes in attempts to notify the public in time to prevent a natural disaster from becoming a human tragedy.


The final day brought more geophysics talks and students from Lewis and Clark College and Pacific University displayed posters and explained their undergraduate research to us. A very exciting part of the final day was the demo competition. We split up into groups each of which received a box filled with various objects like balloons, paperclips, marbles, plastic cups, etc. We were prompted to present various physical principles. Awards were given for the group which performed the most demonstrations and also the best demonstration. Collectively we demonstrated electromagnetism (two groups built a motor), conservation of energy (marbles rolling down elevated surfaces under the force of gravity roll back up a distance proportional to the angle at which they began), conservation of momentum (via elastic and inelastic collisions between marbles and each other and a bouncing ball and the floor), chaotic pendulums and much more.


Finally, we had the University of Washington’s Fumio S. Ohuchi speak to us about the nanotechnology program there. Being a materials science engineer, he brings a unique perspective to nanotechnology and spoke about the research he is currently doing and its connection with nanotechnology. Dr. Ohuchi described his combinatorial materials exploration process to try and develop new materials that can be integrated into modern technology (to replace and complement the ever-present semi-conductor silicon). He also gave us an excellent overview of career opportunities in the field of nanotechnology and information on the Center of Nanotechnology at the University of Washington. He ended by inviting us to visit his laboratory at the university – an offer we plan to take up very soon.

All in all, the zone meeting was extremely instructive and well worth the trip (even though it was on Friday and Saturday)!

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