APS April: Physics Safari to Savannah

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SPSers head south for the APS April Meeting

American Physical Society April Meeting

April 5, 2014 to April 8, 2014

Savannah, Georgia

Meeting host:

American Physical Society


SPS Reporters

SPS Chapter:

St. Mary’s College of Maryland sent a completely full 12 passenger van to Savannah in early April for the APS April Meeting. There we attended plenary talks, lots of parallel sessions, poster sessions, press conferences and much more! We even saw the new movie Particle Fever about the discovery of the Higgs at CERN. The highlight of the meeting for most of us was seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson speak about outreach via Twitter! We also enjoyed exploring Savannah and finding new favorite restaurants. Here are our thoughts and reflections on our experience in Savannah at the April Meeting.  — Reporters: Laura Andre, Grant Burgess, Chris Johnson, Erin Knutson, Jon Kwolek, Lizzie Nance, Dan Putt, Sean Stafford, and Arvind Srinivasan.

MEMBERS OF THE SPS CHAPTER AT ST. MARY'S COLLEGE OF MARYLAND pose for a photo by themselves (top) and with Flat Feynman (left). Photos courtesy of Jon Kwolek.

Blackholes and Hyperloop Trains

The 2014 APS conference in Savannah was a blast. The conference center was across the river from our hotel and the rest of the city, but the short ferry ride we made a few times a day was a treat rather than a chore. I was able to attend a variety of talks, and of course the ones with invited speakers were the most interesting and visually appealing, but I wasn’t disappointed with any of the lectures I attended. Since I’ve gotten back to school, for example, I’ve been annoying all of my friends by ranting about how what our country really needs is a hyperloop train system. Also notably, I learned a great deal about black holes from two different talks I went to. I’d always written them off as mysterious phenomena that I wouldn’t be able to understand because I don’t know a lot about astrophysics. Of course, getting to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak, and then getting to eat lunch with him, was one of the most outstanding memories — I felt like I was watching an informative comedy routine. I was surprised that he didn’t really bother to include any physics in his talk, but I wasn’t let down by this. Overall, I really enjoyed getting to explore the city of Savannah while learning about current scientific and mathematical research. I can’t wait for the next APS meeting.

General Thoughts

The APS Conference in Savannah, Georgia was my first conference for physics. Given my experience in the field, many of the talks were barely comprehensible. Yet I was surprised at number of general talks available after some digging through the program of events. Often for these general talks the pictures on the slideshow were just as informative or more informative than the talk itself. One great example of this was the talk on Fireworks in the Galactic Center Black Hole, which featured an array of breathtaking photographs and fair number of artist renditions.

Another highlight of the APS conference was the location. Savannah has the tourist feel that allows for an amazing conference experience away from the conference itself. There were many areas to dine and shop, and the nearby SCAD campus made the location extremely friendly for our age group.

Press Conferences and Other Thoughts
by JON KWOLEK, 2014

The 2014 APS April meeting was an informative and fascinating conference. My primary research interests being in AMO, I did not have much of an understanding of the topics at the meeting. I attended one of the poster sessions with many people presenting on topics like dark matter and SUSY. The conversations I had with the students presenting these topics provided a much better understanding than I could  have had from reading an article. The students at the poster sessions showed a lot of passion and drive in their research, and I greatly enjoyed those conversations. 

“I learned a lot about topics that I had never before explored” – Jon Kwolek

Another reporter and I attended a few of the press conference events, the most notable being an interview with Dr. Jamie Bock, the person in charge of the BICEP2 project. Their discovery was one of the biggest discoveries in the last decade of research in cosmology, and it was amazing to be able to talk to him. He spoke on some of the issues and struggles they had faced when designing the project, and the careful rigor they went through to make sure that their discovery was true. He also spoke about BICEP3, which would ultimately improve upon BICEP2.

Later in the conference we were able to attend a lunch with the keynote speaker that day, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Neil was an inspiration to not only me, but to everyone in the room. He talked to us about public outreach in physics, and the importance of different aspects of it. His charisma was incredible; I have never met someone who was able to so readily convey their passion on a subject. Dr. Tyson kept talking after the planned end time of the session, and signed autographs at the end. It was obvious that everyone in the room respected him and took his advice to heart.

Overall I view the trip as a success. There were many interesting sessions to attend, and I learned a lot about topics that I had never before explored. Beyond this, we were able to attend multiple sessions with people who have made very notable contributions to their field.

Astrophysics and Physics Outreach

Going to Savannah for the APS April Meeting was probably the best decision I made with my sophomore year here at St. Mary’s. It was an amazing opportunity to see what physics is like outside of the walls of the science building at 3am. I was introduced  to a lot new applications of information I already knew; such as the concept of the hyperloop train system. I also expanded upon my very basic knowledge on astrophysics by attending this conference. It was very surprising how many of the Astrophysics talks I could relatively follow, at least conceptually, due to the information that Professor Ted Tao taught this Spring semester in his senior level elective Astrophysics course.

“Going to Savannah for the APS April Meeting was probably the best decision I made with my sophomore year here at St. Mary’s” – Lizzie Nance

The absolute highlight of my experience in Savannah was the lunch I attended with Neil deGrasse Tyson. While he did not go into much depth about his personal research, his take on education reform and outreach was very enlightening. He was pushing for scientists to understand how to speak to the general public as opposed to just the experts in their respective field. It was great to hear that he was fighting for STEM to be better taught in our schools and to get the public enthused about scientific discoveries.

Surprises in Savannah

I had a very positive experience at the American Physical Society in Savannah, Georgia. I not only enjoyed the conference but I also especially enjoyed the city of Savannah. The talks I attended mainly talked about particle physics and astrophysics. I knew a little bit about astrophysics but I hardly knew anything about particle physics. I really thought the talks on the large hadron collider were interesting. I especially enjoyed the movie about the Higgs-boson particle.

I was surprised that I got to see a talk by Neil Degrasse Tyson. Even though his talk wasn’t about science and more social networking, I thought it was a very interesting and engaging talk. I was also surprised to see that there was such a wide range of people, from experts to graduate students, giving presentations.

Meeting Physicists and Students
by LAURA ANDRE, 2015

I had a great experience at the APS Conference in Savannah, Georgia. I did not know much about Astrophysics or Particle physics before attending the conference, but after attending many of the talks given by renowned researchers I have a much better understand of these fields. Although these may not be exactly what fields I would like to go into after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, attending the conference helped me gain an understanding of what research other physicists are doing and what it is like to be a physicist in the real world. In addition I attended talks and panel discussions on preparing for graduate school and about the many different job opportunities available to me as a physicist, two particularly relevant areas of interest for me as an undergraduate.

Aside from learning about physics in a professional environment, I was very excited to meet and talk with other undergrads and hear about what research other young people were performing and what their goals were. It was sometimes overwhelming to meet important physicists and hear about their impressive jobs, and I appreciated having time to talk to other undergrads like myself. Throughout our trip, I was most surprised to see that there was such a wide variety of people giving talks and presenting posters. Some were experts in the their and others were just starting off, and even other were just undergraduate or graduate students like me.

Wide World of Physics and Physicists

The APS meeting trip left a wonderful scar that I cherish, and has helped me evolve as a physicist. I was a little concerned that I would not understand a single talk and that was to some degree the case, however I was exposed to different areas of physics helping me attempt to decide on what field to go into when I begin applying for grad schools. I met a lot of interesting people, some had an astonishing master of their subject and others tried to tell me that gravity and light slow down. The experience gave me a lot of hope in a sense because worstcase scenario for my future I can be the crazy physics guy yelling at a conference instead of asking a question. That would just be all right with me. In the end I feel like we all got to know some of the other physics majors at our school a little better, bringing the St. Mary’s physics community a little bit closer together.

“I met a lot of interesting people, some had an astonishing master of their subject and others tried to tell me that gravity and light slow down ” – Chris Johnson

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Reporter Lizzie Nance with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Arvind Srinivasan and Grant Burgess hanging out with Richard Feynman