Highlights from the APS Meeting
by Remington Tyler Thornton, SPS Reporter, Abilene Christian University
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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 Remington Tyler Thornton at a regional APS meeting.

Photo courtesy of Remington Thornton.

At the American Physical Society (APS) meeting, thousands of APS members presented at and attended sessions related to graphite, computational physics, physics education and everything in-between. The physics department at Abilene Christian University (ACU) sent 16 students. At the meeting we were able to attend talks given by fellow SPS members, interview invited speakers and attend press conferences. Highlights from these experiences are given below.

Keller Andrews, a senior physics major at ACU, attended a session filled with talks by fellow SPS members. The presentations included Courtney A. Bougher on Growth and Morphology of High Mobility Semi-Conductors, Charles Zhang on Modeling Quent Cascade Lasers, Romes de Cross Martinez on Effect of Polymer Concentration, and Katherine V Carrasquilla on Tunable Schottky Diodes.

Spense Lynn, a sophomore physics major at ACU, interviewed Brian Schwartz about promoting science through the performing arts. Here is Spense’s account:

Every Wednesday, the New York Times runs an eight page science and health section. In the past, the paper covered news stories in various branches of science, but now it has begun devoting more space to health stories. For some, only having eight pages once a week devoted to science in one of the world’s premier news outlets is a shame, but Brian Schwartz of The Graduate Center of CUNY thinks we should be lucky to receive eight pages.

“The sciences receive much more funding than the performing arts from the federal government, but science gets discussed once a week in the New York Times while the performing arts are covered daily”, said Schwartz. “Money is being spent on research, but the majority of people do not know what research is being funded and conducted because there is not much of an outlet for these news stories.”

The problem of diminishing science news coverage is not the reader’s fault, but is due to the methods used by scientists to communicate science to the public, according to Schwartz. Rather than using methods that reach a small percentage of the population, Schwartz saw an opportunity to take science to the masses by using the allure of the performing arts.

“There is an enormous fascination with the performing arts, and people are drawn to it”, says Schwartz. “By using this, we can develop new means for promoting science and educating people on the exciting new research that is going on.”

One way that Schwartz combined science and performing arts was through a National Science Foundation funded conference, Communicating Science to the Public through the Performing Arts. The conference combined science and the performing arts with sessions on topics such as science and TV, science and dance, and science and film. Another time, Schwartz combined them by hosting science talks and festivals in conjunction with the New York City performances of the play Copenhagen.

“The result of combing the performing arts and science was amazing. For Copenhagen, people were able to learn about the history behind the story, gain an understanding of the science that was involved, as well as enjoy the play”, said Schwartz. “This shows that you cannot expect people to come to you for them to gain appreciation for what is going on it science. You have to take it to them, and when you do that, you will have an audience.”

  Seven out of the 16 Abilene Christian University Students that attended the meeting, in front of the Dallas Convention Center's cattle artwork.

Seven out of the 16 Abilene Christian University students that attended the meeting, in front of the Dallas Convention Center’s cattle artwork.

Photo courtesy of Remington Thornton


I attended the press conference on graphene. The conference lasted one hour and started with four invited speakers each giving a short introduction to their subject. The speakers were: Sanker de Sarma from the University of Maryland, Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester (2010 Physics Nobel Laureate), Amir Yacoby from Harvard and Philip Kim from Columbia University.

de Sarma gave an overview of the properties of graphene. He mentioned that graphene is the thinnest material in the world, is lightweight, is pure (meaning no defects) and can be used as an insulator and a conductor. de Sarma also mentioned that graphene has been under theoretical study since 1947, but was not a popular material until Novoselov ‘s 2004-05 experiment.

Next, Novoseloy talked about how graphene is obtained as well as some implications of the research. Graphene can be obtained using mechanical exfoliation, chemical vapor deposition growth, epitaxial growth on Silicon Carbonate (SiC) and chemical exfoliation. He went on to say that other single layer materials could be formed with the same methods. We could then layer different single layer materials together to create new materials. For instance, graphene could be combined with fluorine to create flourugraphene.

The third speaker, Yacoby, discussed the properties of bi-layer graphene. He talked about the need for a higher degeneracy for bi-layer graphene so the system can organize itself better. He also mentioned using graphene to help study quantum dots and spintronics.

The last speaker, Kin, talked about other applications for graphene. He discussed how graphene can be combined with boron-nitride and this new material is an insulting, atomically flat, low charged defect substrate, which can be used as a radio frequency transistor, heat spreader, and solar cell electrode. It can also be used to coat other materials or even as the main component in flexible electronics.

The meeting was a hit for all of us. All sixteen students went to several talks and had conversations with experts in the field. ACU has always encouraged students to attend local and national APS meetings. APS meetings are always a great time for undergraduates to see what is out there. The local meetings provide a chance for students to present to a small audience, and the national meetings display the larger interests of the physics community, including areas of physics that any particular school may not cover. Since this meeting was in Dallas, we were able to bring many students who had fun and learned about cutting-edge physics. I recommend that every undergraduate student go to at least one APS meeting before graduating.

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).

SPS Reporter Program

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.

SPS Travel Awards

A limited number of Travel Grants, on the order of $200 each, are offered to help fund SPS members' travel to national meetings of AIP Member Societies holding a "SPS Session" co-organized by SPS and the Member Society.

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