Physics: It’s not a Phase

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April 20, 2018

Corvallis, Oregon

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students


Hannah Crayton

SPS Chapter:

Upon hearing that my Society of Physics Students chapter at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) had the opportunity to travel to Oregon State University (OSU) this past semester to attend the SPS Zone 17 meeting, I knew I wanted to participate in the trip down. I was excited to learn more about SPS National and especially looking forward to meeting other SPS students from different universities and to learn about their own chapters of SPS. Once I worked out logistics with professors and classes, I was able to travel down to OSU with our SPS chapter President Kiana Kade, and our club secretary Angela Cook.

After traveling the stereotypical Alaskan way with a departure flight at 1:00 am with a stop through Seattle, we arrived half-awake to Corvallis just in time for our first event of the zone meeting, the annual Yunker Lecture put on by OSU. While we thought we had entered the correct lecture hall expecting to hear Dr. Laura H. Greene, Past-President of the American Physical Society, give a presentation on The Dark Energy of Quantum Materials, Angela and I instead found ourselves sitting in a lecture room full of students preparing to take a quiz in a class that we, by all means, were not registered for. After a quick and embarrassing exit, we found the correct lecture hall and instead heard the incredibly interesting presentation we were meant to hear.

Our first night consisted of food and getting to know each other through ice-breaker games and introductions. Dr. Davide Lazzati, an Astrophysics professor at OSU, gave a keynote address on his research, Numerical Simulations of Gamma-Ray Burst Explosions.  He also gave insight on his experience through graduate school, finding his research niche and answered questions from all of us afterwards.  The 3 of us from UAA were sharing this weekend with two other Alaskan students from Fairbanks, as well as students from Washington and Oregon universities. After bonding over things like rock-climbing and nerdy physics jokes, we were all ready for the day ahead of us.

All of our SPS Zone 17 meeting events took place at the OSU Weniger Hall, where their Physics and Astronomy departments are located with faculty offices, classrooms and research labs. It was a welcoming environment full of motivated students and stimulating conversation. We all ate breakfast together at Weniger Hall and began a fun game of “Physics Olympics” in teams of 4. My favorite part of this was the physics trivia because it was neat to see a group of students in different years of their degrees, with different curriculum, come together and have a common understanding of the concepts we’ve all grown to love as physics students. This transitioned into a Skype call with the SPS National Director Brad Conrad who engaged us with a presentation on what SPS means to him and how SPS is making an impact at universities nationally. This was very informative, and I felt that I came away with a better understanding of SPS and how I can use the resources it provides to its students to benefit and evolve our chapter up in Anchorage.

Before lunch and lab tours, we heard from OSU faculty member Dr. Matt Graham about his ongoing research in the Micro-Femto Energetics Lab. He went into detail afterwards about his expectations as a faculty research advisor, and what he looks for in his graduate level students who want to be involved in research. He encouraged us to get involved and to reach out to the faculty at our own universities who are doing research in what we are interested in, driving the point that we have to make the connections and put in the effort to stand out if we want the opportunity.

Our last hours together at the meeting were my favorite of the whole weekend. The group of us headed to an open field where we played soccer and went over our chapter updates. I felt so content to be with this group of students who all share similar passions, with drive and excitement towards a future with physics. One by one, we went around and spoke about the different things our SPS chapters have been doing at our respective universities. From hearing about faculty/student mixers, field trips, and community volunteering, I was ready to bring these ideas home and share them with our own SPS chapter.

Although I had a backpack full of homework waiting for me to address its existence, I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to my new friends and end our zone meeting. I felt as though there were still so many conversations to be had, ideas to be shared, and concepts to be discussed. Instead of being sad that I had to make my way back up to Alaska, I was excited to bring home the memories and knowledge from my weekend at OSU. I truly valued the trip and I’m more than ready for next year’s. I’m grateful to SPS that they provide these type of opportunities for students that give us the means to create sincere  relationships and connections with other physics students from around the country.