Physics for the People: Community Lecture Series

SPS Chapter Awards

Physics for the People: Community Lecture Series

2017–18 Sigma Pi Sigma Chapter Project Award

Colorado School of Mines

Project Lead: Emily Atkinson

Project Advisor: Timothy Ohno

Project Summary: The Colorado School of Mines Sigma Pi Sigma chapter hosted a lecture series on advanced physics topics aimed at nonacademics. Most university lectures are given at a very advanced level, so the goal of these lectures was to get high schoolers and community members more excited about physics. Through the efforts of this chapter, two community lectures were held, reaching over 80 people in the community.

The Colorado School of Mines Sigma Pi Sigma chapter officers. Photo courtesy of Colorado School of Mines.To encourage science literacy and increase awareness of our physics department, the Mines Sigma Pi Sigma chapter organized two lectures at the local high school auditorium: “Is Quantum Mechanics Hard, Or Is It Just Me?” and “The Dawn of Multi-Messenger Astronomy: New Ways to Observe the Universe.” With a diverse group of attendees, including high school students, Mines students, and community members, and vibrant Q&A sessions, we achieved our goals in engaging the audience and making these complex topics approachable. Dr. Mark Lusk, the presenter for the quantum mechanics lecture and a physics professor at Mines, even received emails after the event from current high schoolers showing interest in the topic and the Mines physics department.

This event also served as an opportunity to reinvigorate the Sigma Pi Sigma chapter on campus. As is the case at many schools, very few students or faculty, even in the physics department, knew that Sigma Pi Sigma was different from the Society of Physics Students. This lecture series established Sigma Pi Sigma’s presence in the physics department and raised its profile throughout the university. Posters advertising the lectures and highlighting Sigma Pi Sigma as the host were placed in the physics building and throughout campus. There were also electronic advertisements sent to the entire student body, all highlighting Sigma Pi Sigma’s involvement in the event. These efforts have caused a noticeable increase in Mines students’ recognition of the organization. More people are aware of what Sigma Pi Sigma is, and we have even had some students ask how they can join Sigma Pi Sigma.

Beyond Mines, the lecture series has also caused an increase in the general public’s awareness of physics at Mines and of Sigma Pi Sigma. Advertisements were placed in local restaurants and shops around the city of Golden, again with the Sigma Pi Sigma name. We also sent advertisements to over 90 high school science teachers in the Jefferson County school district. This led to a large presence of high school students at the lecture series, exposing them to physics and Sigma Pi Sigma. There was even one teacher that requested to bring her class to tour Mines and talk with the Sigma Pi Sigma officers about their time at Mines. We met with the students and thus further increased recognition of physics, Mines, and Sigma Pi Sigma.

In addition to increasing awareness of the organization, the lecture series also helped strengthen the community of new, current, and alumni members of Sigma Pi Sigma. New members were encouraged to and gladly helped with the advertising and setup of the lectures. Current members were active in the planning of the event, and nearly all attended the lectures. We even had several alumni members attend the lectures and talk with current members afterward. This increased the sense of community within the organization and will allow for continued success as the organization progresses.

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