150 Hours of Physics: A Week in Baltimore

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American Physical Society March Meeting

March 18, 2013 to March 22, 2013

Baltimore, Maryland

Meeting host:

American Physical Society


Michael Drews, William Fox, Jesus Garcia, Emily Hommerding, Carly Ilg, Matthew Otten, and Anthony Ruth

SPS Chapter:

 Jesus, Carly, and Micheal outside the convention center. Photo by Emily Hommerding

The 2013 APS March Meeting was held in the lovely city of Baltimore, Maryland. The APS March Meeting is the largest annual gathering of physicists in the world. The Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT) Society of Physics Students chapter sent seven students to the meeting. The students ranged from seniors who are attending graduate school in the fall all the way to freshman, barely in their second semester of college. This gave us a lot of interesting perspectives on the meeting.

We decided to attend this meeting for several reasons. Attending gave all of us, at different parts in our career, a chance to see what we are getting ourselves into, especially if we want to do research in an academic environment. Furthermore, at least knowing what is being done (if not understanding it) and by whom enables us to make more informed decisions when starting research, applying for summer research, or even applying for grad school. The commentary from the attendees given below only scratches the surface; over 150 hours of physics talks were attended by the seven students.

Matthew Otten

As a graduating senior who has been accepted by institutions that were well represented at the March Meeting, I had a special interest in many of the talks. This was my chance to see what research is being done at the universities I am interested in attending. In contast to a small blurb on a webpage, these talks are the core of the research programs. I was able to see what the professors I am interested in working with actually do, and what I would be doing if I were to work with them. This helped cement my graduate school decision.

As an aspiring theoretical physicist, I decided to attend a press conference dedicated to theoretical physics, titled “Quantum Issues.” The press conference featured work related to the black hole information paradox by Christoph Adami, the wave function of quantum mechanics by Renato Renner, and 3-D space by Markus Mueller. Renner's work on the reality of the wavefunction and Mueller's work on why space is three-dimensional had an interesting parallel, and they supported each other well. Renner showed that quantum theory is complete, an extension of the Bell inequality, while Mueller said that quantum theory implies that the world is three-dimensional. If my understanding is correct, I infer that if a rolled up dimension too small for us to interact with existed, then quantum mechanics would not work at that small level. Could this have implications for quantum gravity? My knowledge is too minuscule to make any conjecture.

Jesus Garcia

The March Meeting was an excellent opportunity to explore more about the field of solid state physics, as well as other fields. The presenters were extremely knowledgeable in their fields and fully motivated to explain more of their research. I was drawn towards the presentations related to particle physics and the newly discovered Higgs boson. My favorite presentation was given by Steven Chu, United States Secretary of Energy, who spoke about advancements in photovoltaic cells and their importance in moving towards a greener future. I was excited to see a physicist as part of the government. Additionally, I was pleased to know that our Secretary of Energy advisor to the president is pro-green and will pursue higher technologies that will enable us to have a greener future.

I was also able to hear my colleagues present at the March Meeting. It was gratifying to see the IIT family of physicists involved in such a grand event. It helped me picture myself doing similar work throughout my undergraduate years. I thank the SPS President, Matt Otten, for organizing the trip. Additionally, I thank IIT for providing the necessary resources for our Society of Physics Students chapter to attend the March Meeting.

Emily Hommerding

As an undergraduate, my experience at the March Meeting was much different than that of the typical attendee. I did not attend talks that align with my specialty because I have no specialty yet. Instead, I attended talks which either related to research I have done or hope to do, or were on topics I have an active curiosity about. Many talks, especially those in the contributed sessions, were difficult for me to understand due to my lack of experience. When I wanted a break from hard science, I enjoyed invited sessions focused on diversity in physics, physics outreach, and science policy.

One of my favorite sessions at the conference was Physics and Applications of Transparent Conducting Oxides. My REU research focused on a transparent conducting oxide, so my familiarity with the field meant I was able to follow the speakers and add to my knowledge of the field.                        

A great thing about the March Meeting is its size. As I am choosing a graduate school, I appreciated the chance to be able to see many of the professors at my prospective schools present their work. Although the meeting is large, the sense of community at the meeting is strong and I was pleased to be a part of it.                                   

Anthony Ruth

There were a tremendous number of talks to choose from and not enough time to see them all, but the organizers did a great job at grouping related topics. Several times I would attend a talk without knowing where to go next, but the talk right after the one I wanted to see was also something interesting. A few hours later I would realize that I'd been sitting in the same room all afternoon. My favorite talk was definitely a comparison of condensed matter and atomic physics.

There were an incredible number of posters, but not a lot of people viewing them, and the talks continued throughout the poster sessions. I was disappointed at the lack of visitors to my poster, and would give a talk next time instead.

William Fox

At the March Meeting I attended numerous sessions that helped to bring the current direction of numerous areas of physics into view. I was also able to attend a number of sessions that applied to my biophysics research, and that introduced me to a number of new techniques that could potentially be applied to the work my group is doing. In addition, the talks provided insight into the greater capabilities of the research in which I am involved. The meeting was a great socially and intellectually stimulating experience, and even though it was how I spent my Spring break, I do not regret attending any part of the event.

Carly Ilg

Going to the APS March Meeting was a really unique experience. As a first-year undergraduate, I knew going in that a lot of the talks would be miles over my head. I was pleased when I attended the "Physics for Everyone" session. Instead of talks about superconductors and quantum physics, I listened to talks about musical scales, polymers, and infrared and ultraviolet imaging of paintings. My favorite talk was about musical scales, since I have a background in music and completely understood the science behind how scales are created. In that session I also learned how scientists use IR and UV imaging to determine if paintings are authentic.

The more in-depth talks made me realize that I have a long way to go on the physics path, and certainly have a lot to learn, but motivated me to give my studies my best effort so I can accomplish great things. In the exhibit hall, I learned what industry jobs are common and the requirements for those, as well as how to publish a paper. The variety of companies and information was outstanding. Overall, the trip to Baltimore was great, and I am incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to attend the March Meeting. I look forward to attending more meetings in the future and being able to understand more of the information presented.

Micheal Drews

Attending the 2013 March Meeting was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in my college career. This is my first year attending college; as such, I haven’t amassed any significant knowledge regarding the intensive subjects that were discussed at the meeting.  Even so, the meeting provided me with a wonderful idea of what a career in physics would entail, solidifying my desire to become a physicist. I mostly attended talks on quantum computing, as I know that I want to go into computational physics, and they left me with a feeling of excitement for the time in the (hopefully near!) future when I understand the concepts and even maybe advance the field through my own research.

The people I met and talked to were all open, friendly, and more than willing to discuss their work. Each interaction just excited me even more for my future in physics. Despite my lack of understanding of the material discussed in most of the talks, the March Meeting was an unforgettable experience that I recommend to all undergraduate physics students, as it provides us with a great idea of what we can anticipate in the coming years.

The APS March Meeting taught all of the IIT SPS attendees many things, but one of the most quoted was our lack of knowledge. Rather than discourage us, this has only inspired us to learn more. Knowing what you do not know is an important step in the learning process, and these conferences give undergraduate students this knowledge firsthand.

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