Physicists take over Denver!

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American Physical Society March Meeting

March 3, 2014 to March 7, 2014

Denver, Colorado

Meeting host:

American Physical Society


Zoey Warecki

SPS Chapter:

Warecki in the exhibit hall with exhibits and classmate  Kyle Sherbert (right).

The APS March Meeting may be the greatest conference a student can attend during his or her undergraduate career. Last year the APS March Meeting took place in Baltimore, MD, and several of the SPS chapter members at Towson University had the pleasure of going. I, however, did not take advantage of going to the conference when it was right down the road, but this year I was determined to attend. I had done research that I was truly proud of and I wanted to share it with my peers. I also knew that there is a lot to be learned at conferences such as the APS March Meeting and I wanted to gain the sort of knowledge that is not traditionally gained in a lecture or lab. The APS March Meeting in Denver, CO surpassed all my expectations and my only regret is that I could not stay the entire week.

Highlights for me included the SPS Undergraduate Sessions, the student receptions and “student lounge,” and the exhibit hall. The SPS Undergraduate Sessions were great for students because the talks are not as highly specialized as the talks in many of the other sessions, and they give you a broad idea of what kind of research is possible. The students give background introductions to their work and are often better able to explain their research to other students because they are new to the field as well. I saw how other students approached similar problems to what I encounter with the thin films I study in my lab, as well as different problems they were struggling with.

The student receptions and student lounge that were put together by APS and SPS were great. I met lots of undergraduate and graduate students and made connections that I hope to maintain. The student lounge was in the exhibit hall and was nice because students could relax, get free food, and talk with other students. At one of the student receptions I had the fortune of meeting the graduate student of a well-respected physicist whose papers I had been reading and re-reading because of their relevance to my research. I was really surprised because their group is currently in Switzerland. We wound up having a fantastic conversation.

The exhibit hall was one of my favorite parts of the conference, and one that I have mistakenly tended to shy away from in the past. But an exhibit hall, especially a huge one like this one, is fantastic because there is so much to see and learn! You can walk around and talk to experts on whatever you feel like. Want to learn about some new diffraction technique? It’s there! Want to learn about this kind of fabrication or that kind of deposition? It’s there! It’s all there in one room for the sole purpose of trying to sell you things. But since you’re a student and have no say in what your department spends, they don’t try to sell you stuff and they are more than happy to answer your questions. I think the experience is much more interactive than sitting in a specialized talk and desperately trying to understand every other word that the speaker is saying. As a student, I much prefer talking to individuals and being able to ask questions. That being said, I did attend some great talks at the APS March Meeting.

One of the best sessions I attended was about education and diversity in physics and I really liked this one because it forces physicists to start conversing about what some consider to be uncomfortable topics. I don’t believe any of the speakers had solutions to the issues we face, but it is important that these discussions take place in order for us to move forward. It also gives you an idea of how the physics community views students and how they attempt to understand the challenges we are facing.

Another memorable part of the conference was meeting the lead scientist at an international institute. I was interested in the work they do and wanted to learn more about their lab. A few weeks before the conference I emailed someone from the group and recieved a friendly response saying they would be happy to meet with me. I met them at the conference and spent an hour learning from a respected physicist from Sweden! Only at conferences like these can you meet people from all over the world, interested in the same topics as you.

Conferences like APS are amazing because everyone is so friendly and like-minded about physics that you can’t help but pick up on their energy. Because of this energy there isn’t the competitive tension that one might expect; instead, there is a strong camaraderie among everyone, especially the students. Getting to meet students and physicists from around the world and discuss our interests was the best part of the conference.

Ultimately, the conference experience depends on the individual. The APS March Meeting was perfect for me because the conference focused on fields that I’m interested in. I could walk up and down the exhibit hall and mentally check which companies I’ve used equipment from in my lab at school. And as someone who hopes to work in research one day, I will likely need to buy/repair things in the lab; the APS March Meeting was a very comfortable way to familiarize myself with my field.

I would highly encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zones and attend a conference because there is so much to be gained. Out of the several conferences I’ve attended as an undergraduate, the APS March Meeting has been the most rewarding for me personally. As a student that is used to a physics department that some would consider small, it was incredible to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. At the APS March Meeting there are thousands of people who are just as passionate about physics as you are. 

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Warecki with SPS Director Toni Sauncy.