APS March 2011 Meeting
by Isaac Marx, SPS Reporter, Allgheny College
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Jose Amaral (the author) presenting research on the synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles during one of the many massive poster sessions.

Author Isaac Marx with his research poster.
Photo courtesy of Isaac Marx


The American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting in Dallas, Texas, was my first science conference. It proved very insightful into the world of the natural science we all know and love. Although the meeting started Monday and went until Friday, it seemed as though I learned a semester's worth of physics. I attended over 25 talks, presented my research poster, and still had time to visit the place of John F. Kennedy's assassination, go to the Dallas Aquarium, and explore the downtown historic district.

I would recommend the APS March meeting to all undergraduates interested in physics, whether they intend to go into research or find employment in industry. Many talks at the meeting were not steeped in technical jargon, but rather gave advice to students and mentors partaking in research.  A few of the best talks I attended at the meeting were:


  • “Voodoo Science” by Robert Park of the American Physical Society who spoke on the credibility of science;
  • “M&Ms Packing and Research with Undergrads” by Paul Chaikin of New York University who spent just over half an hour talking about the physics of alignment with ellipsoids (he mentioned that M&Ms are 1% away from being a perfect ellipsoid, whereas skittles are close to 6% from perfect ellipsoid shape);
  • “Science and Cooking: Motivating the study of Freshman Physics” by David Weitz of Harvard University who lectured on how to make introductory level physics appeal to more undergraduate freshmen, specifically using cooking as a way to relate physics to the everyday lives of freshmen;
  • “The Science of Barbecue (Texas Style)” by Davey Griffin of Texas A & M University who spoke on the different types of bovine muscle and the proper culinary preparation of the meats used in barbecue. 

Although these talks were more general, they were the ones that I could understand the best.  There were many other talks directed towards individuals researching in areas from astrophysics and the accelerated expansion of our universe to the physics of protein folding, and everything else a physicist could possibly want or imagine!


Andre Rodarte, graduate student from University of California, Merced, presenting her research on quantum dots in liquid crystals.

Davey Griffin of Texas A&M University talks about the science of barbecue.
Photo courtesy of Isaac Marx


After sitting through several presentations, I talked to an interesting speaker about the options available to a physics student after they graduate from an undergraduate institution.  Should a student immediately apply to graduate school and forget about getting a job if they only have a Bachelor’s degree in science? The answer is no.  An undergraduate physics student has many options: graduate school for a PhD or Master’s degree, a job with a private company, or a job with a private or government funded research laboratory - and these are just a few of the opportunities. There are definitely many opportunities available to physics minds.

The best advice I received at the meeting from the various chats I had with speakers was to “just keep going.”  This came from the Vice President of Skycam Inc., Stephen Wharton.  Stephen Wharton is also Director of New Technologies for Winnercomm and inventor of XPower, a microelectromechanical system (MEMS)-based device that is attached to a professional bull rider to measure the forces exerted on him by the bull during his short-lived ride. 

Mr. Wharton earned his Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering from Milwaukee School of Engineering and has gone through the same rigorous undergraduate work that the rest of us are dealing with now.  He must have done something right in order to get where he is today.  When I asked him what it was, he replied, “It’s all about work ethic and solving problems.  You have to work hard and be committed to yourself.  You need to ask yourself, ‘How do I get the answers for the problem that I am trying to solve?’  You should realize that you can never attain all of the knowledge that you need, but you can learn to progress to solve future problems.”  So whether you feel like the exam in electromagnetism at 11 AM will be the end of the world or you have just gotten turned down from 23 job applications you submitted, just keep going. Another piece of good advice: getting a job is matchmaking, what is a “no, sorry, we don’t have a position for you” today could be a “yes, we need you now” tomorrow.

Left to right: George Crabtree (Argonne National Lab), Oleg Mukhanov (Hypres Inc.), Alex Malozemoff (American Superconductor).
Dallas, TX
Photo courtesy of Isaac Marx


I think Mr. Wharton’s advice applies to all of us involved in undergraduate and graduate physics.  We can all appreciate that failures are inevitable, but it is what we do after such a failure that determines what level of success we will reach.  He told me he that he felt like quitting the entire time he was in school, but that he enjoyed what he was learning so he stuck with it. I believe I have the same mindset as Mr. Wharton - that if we just stick with it and dedicate ourselves to what we truly love, we will end up surpassing our goals.  So now what?  Put yourself out there on the market for jobs, schools, research assistantships, whatever.  Who cares if you only get a response from one out of the hundreds of applications you submitted?  It may be the one response that opens up a door to incredible opportunities.

Free 1-Year Membership in APS

When you join SPS national as an undergraduate, you get free one-year membership in one of ten other physics societies, including the American Physical Society (APS).

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SPS national sends student reporters to most major AIP Member Society meetings, where they are treated like other members of the press. Many ambitious student reporters succeed in securing interviews with society leadership and prominent invited speakers on such occasions.

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