SPS Zone 18 Meeting

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SPS Zone Meeting

April 22, 2022 to April 23, 2022

University of San Diego

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students


Chad Kishimoto

SPS Chapter:

After a two-year hiatus, Society of Physics Students (SPS) members from across Zone 18 got together in sunny San Diego to revitalize and reinvigorate the annual tradition of the SPS Zone Meeting.  Some flew, others drove – braving the infamous Los Angeles traffic, and local chapters took the trolley, to gather at the University of San Diego, a picturesque liberal arts university overlooking Mission Bay.  Together, over the course of two days, students, faculty, physics graduates working in the community, and local graduate students began to rebuild the bonds that had decayed through a lack of connection by engaging in the physics and astronomy that they all love.

Of course, a Zone Meeting is first and foremost about the students.  A large contingent of students made the trip from UC Berkeley, students drove from Fresno State and California Lutheran University, and students from UC San Diego took the trolley.  Together, they heard talks about physics and astronomy from local scientists – peppering them with inquisitive questions throughout, had lively discussions with physics graduates now working in a variety of industries and those now in graduate school, watched the Sea World fireworks show and saw the Orion Nebula on a star-filled night, and met new friends as they engaged in their common love of physics and astronomy. 

Two professors from UC San Diego and one from the University of San Diego gave engaging talks not only on the topics of their research expertise, but also on their path through life that led them to become professors of physics or astronomy.  Dr. Alison Coil, Professor of Physics and Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at UC San Diego, started the meeting with an exciting talk about her work in extragalactic astronomy.  For an hour, she engaged with the attendees, telling stories about her experiences and the conclusions drawn from her work.  SPS members’ curiosities were piqued by this discussion and enjoyed the opportunity to have a question-and-answer dialog with Dr. Coil throughout the talk.  By the end, there was a palpable buzz of excitement amongst the meeting attendees.  SPS members met new friends from other chapters, sharing what they found to be the most exciting parts of the talk.  More advanced students were overheard comparing concepts from the talk to their coursework and previous research experiences.  First year physics students were in awe of the possibilities to come as they explore their future physics trajectory.

As the sun set over Mission Bay, we walked across campus for dinner and star gazing on the roof of the Student Life Pavilion where University of San Diego faculty set up dinner and telescopes.  Over dinner, conversations sprung up about physics classes, of research experiences, and of similarities and differences of being a physics student at different institutions.  Once the sun had set, many enjoyed the Sea World firework show off to the west.  In spite of a biting, cold (by Southern California standards) wind, it was a beautiful night to gaze at the heavens above.  Although the planets and the moon had not yet risen, the crown jewel of the night was the Orion Nebula.  A great evening of introductions, camaraderie, and the stars marked the official end of the first day of the meeting.  (The Berkeley and University of San Diego students later continued the party, together, late into the night!)

On Saturday, we heard from Dr. Maren Mossman, Clare Booth Luce Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego, who studies Bose-Einstein condensates; and from Dr. Rick Averitt, Professor of Physics and SPS Advisor at UC San Diego, who studies the properties of quantum materials.  Each talk engendered lively discussion and SPS members’ curiosity led to a variety of interesting questions and answers. 

Some of the most valuable discussions straddled the lunchtime hour.  Before lunch, the attendees heard from a panel of physics graduates (some with bachelor degrees, some with graduate degrees) who currently work in a variety of private-sector jobs.  These panelists shared with the students their own personal stories and advice for leveraging their physics degree to pursue a career.  Naturally, students had tons of questions, and the discussions continued intensely through lunch.  After lunch, a panel of current graduate students (including a former Zone 18 AZC!)  from different institutions shared their thoughts about applying to graduate school and about the life and opportunities of a graduate student.

The meeting concluded at Mission Bay Park for dinner.  Frisbees were tossed, a game of soccer broke out, friends old and new chatted while walking along the shore.  As the sun set – both figuratively and literally – on the Zone 18 Meeting, we vowed to continue the momentum to revitalize and reinvigorate our SPS chapters after two tough years and that we would look forward to reconnect in Washington, D.C. for PhysCon, the 2022 Physics Congress in October, and reconvene next spring for the next Zone 18 meeting.

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