SPS Zone 5 Meeting

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SPS Zone Meeting

February 18, 2023

Duke University, Durham, NC

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students


Natalie Klco

SPS Chapter:

Zone 5 SPS Zone Councilor: Anthony Kuchera (ankuchera [at] davidson.edu)

Associate Zone Councilor: Aidan Keaveney (keaveneyaw [at] appstate.edu)

Local SPS Advisor: Natalie Klco (natalie.klco [at] duke.edu)

Local SPS leadership: Pavani Jairam (pavani.jairam [at] duke.edu), Pranav Charvu (pranav.charvu [at] duke.edu), Becky Ball (rebecca.ball [at] duke.edu), Brandon Weiss (brandon.weiss [at] duke.edu

1             Meeting Report

The 2023 Zone 5 meeting was the first in-person zone meeting since at least 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting was hosted by Duke University at the Ahmadieh Family

Grand Hall. The meeting was co-organized by the Duke SPS chapter, the Associate Zone Councilor, and the Zone Councilor. After some opening remarks over breakfast, participants were put into random groups to meet people from other chapters. The icebreaker activity was led by the Duke SPS chapter and included a game of pictionary. The groups also had the opportunity to share about their chapters. The organizers celebrated the Duke location to offer a tour of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL). Additionally, Duke graduate students served on a panel during lunch for participants to get a sense of what graduate school is like, advice for applying to graduate school, and more. There was a scientific talk about cosmology from Duke professor Dr. Daniel Scolnic. Additionally, Congresswoman Deborah Ross gave a short talk and had a question and answer session about the interplay between science, policy, and politics. In between speakers, students presented research posters and those not presenting were interactive participants to learn what their zone-mates have been doing. After some announcements about SPS National opportunities, chapters reconvened at the end of the day to discuss future plans for the rest of the semester. 

1.1           Agenda





9:30 AM - 10:00 AM

Arrival & Check-In with

Monuts Donuts

Bryan Center Parking Lot & Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

10:00 AM - 10:30 AM

Introductions and Icebreaker

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

10:30 AM - 11:00 AM

Small Group Workshop

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

TUNL Tours: Tandem lab and High Intensity

Gamma-Ray Source (HIGS)


Triangle Universities Nuclear


12:30 PM - 1:15 PM

Graduate Student Panel with

Lunch (Foster’s)

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

1:15 PM - 2:15 PM

Speaker 1: Dr. Daniel Scolnic

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

2:15 PM - 2:30 PM



2:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Poster Session

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM

Speaker 2: Congresswoman

Deborah Ross

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Chapter Workshop

Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall

4:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Closing Remarks &


Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall


1.2           List of Chapters in Attendance

  • Duke
  • Appalachian State University
  • Davidson College
  • High Point University
  • UNC Asheville
  • UNC Chapel Hill
  • Clemson University
  • Francis Marion University
  • Presbyterian College
  • Total registered: 72 + waitlist
  • Total Attendees: 65 (++grad students and speakers)

1.3           Attendee Statistics

Official room max capacity: 65

1.4           Recommendations for future zone meeting planning

  • Participants want even more time to interact with each other.
  • Several people wait until right before the deadline to register: prepare accordingly for a last-minute surge.
  • After lunch, some students went in search of auxiliary caffeinated beverages: plan recommendations for such needs.

2             Narrative Report

On a chilly Saturday morning, physics enthusiasts from across the Carolinas flocked to the Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall at Duke University for the Society of Physics Students Zone 5 Meeting. Students were eager to be back in-person for Zone 5’s annual meeting. The morning started off with bagels and donuts from Durham’s prized Monuts Donuts and mingling between the students as various SPS chapters arrived.

At ten o’clock, the SPS Zone Councilor Anthony Kuchera, Associate Zone Councilor Aidan Keaveney, and Duke SPS Advisor Natalie Klco kick the meeting off welcoming a room of 70 attendees. The Duke SPS Chapter led an icebreaker as the first activity. Students were divided up into 10 teams to play pictionary. To get the chance to meet other students in Zone 5, everyone went around in their groups to introduce themselves. After introductions, the fun began. Each team had to draw words related to physics such as “magnetism” and “solar system” but a few words such as “breadstick” were thrown into the mix as a challenge.

After SPS members showed their strong artistry, conversations of the meeting pivoted to discussions on their own SPS chapters. One school created their own demos while another school utilized their school’s planetarium to engage people in physics. To build community among their chapter and physics students, schools held events like Dress Up Like A Professor Day and used student lounges as a place for students to gather, work, and get to meet other physics students. Many SPS chapters had small physics departments, so students discussed challenges of funding and getting students to attend SPS events.

Following the small group discussions was the highly anticipated Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL) Tour. TUNL is a laboratory run by schools in the area including Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University. The attendees were split into four groups and walked to TUNL which is tucked behind Duke’s Physics building. The tours, led by TUNL researchers, showed attendees Tandem Lab and the High Intensity Gamma Ray Source (HIGS) facility. They got the chance to view the FN tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, Enge Split-Pole Spectrometer, and control room while learning about the cutting-edge research, including nuclear astrophysics, nuclear reactions, and accelerator physics, being done at TUNL.

The attendees went back to the Ahmadieh Family Grand Hall to eat tacos from Foster’s for lunch and listen to the graduate student panel. There were three third-year graduate students in attendance–Emma, Isabella, and John whose respective research fields are neutrinos, quantum computing, and condensed matter. With many of the attendees being undergraduate students, the graduate students explained the process of applying to graduate school and why they chose to attend Duke. They recommended looking for schools that have labs that have the research that student’s are interested in. One attendee asked the panel what schools look for when applying to which the grad students replied that research experience plays a strong factor in admissions. Isabella did a variety of research throughout her undergraduate career, so in order to make sure she knew that she wanted to go in to quantum computing, she took a gap year to do research at Los Alamos National Lab before applying to graduate school. With admissions for graduate school being highly competitive, the grad students emphasized that not getting into grad school was not indicative of students abilities but rather grad school is competitive and do not have enough space. Finally, Emma highlighted the importance of good work life balance and not to attach one’s self worth to research. For instance, Emma recently signed up for figure skating lessons to take time for herself.

The day was indeed jam packed with events, so right after the panel, Assistant Professor of Physics Dan Scolnic gave a talk on his research challenging the most pressing topics in cosmology. As an experimentalist, he focuses on Type Ia supernova cosmology using data from Pan-STARRS, DES, LSST and WFIRST. He studies calculations of Hubble’s constant, the standard model of cosmology, using supernovae as standard candles, standard model of cosmology, and cepheids. During his talk, Professor Scolnic discussed communicating science and engaging with the scientific community with Twitter. After his talk, participants followed up with questions on this–to which Scolnic pointed out that Twitter is effective in telling the public about results.

Following Scolnic’s talk was the poster session. Zone 5 participants presented their research including projects on wave packets, double star systems, and nudot neutrinos. With topics covering particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, science policy, quantum mechanics and a diverse range of research techniques, participants got the chance to engage with discussions to learn about the research being done at various institutions. It was the perfect opportunity to learn about new research topics or have deep conversations on familiar research areas.

The next item on the agenda was a visit from Congresswoman Deborah Ross, the U.S. House of Representative for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. Congresswoman Ross serves on the Environment Subcommittee and is the Ranking Member of the Energy Subcommittee. Even though Congresswoman Ross is a House Representative, she expressed her own love for physics that translates into her work in Congress– she took physics and math classes in college and loved AP physics. She highlighted being part of allocating the largest NSF funding in history, passing the CHIPS and Science Act last year which invests in semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. and invests in science and technology research.

Ross then took questions from the audience for an open discussion on the intersection of science and policy. She discussed how students can get involved in policy and law, the need to distribute energy resources to micro-grids to homes, and renewable energy prospects. One meeting participant in the crowd asked how scientists should deal with a politicized environment. Ross acknowledged that people do lie about the facts, even the news. To that, she responded, ”more speech, more facts” to drown out the people that spread misinformation. Ross also highlighted that when it comes to science on an international level, it is not good to bash other countries and it is best to come together so that everybody is involved.

At the end of the event, attendees met with their SPS chapters to debrief and reflect on what new ideas they can bring to their chapter after the meeting. With discussions all day on what Zone 5 chapters have been doing at their own institutions, the goal was to draw inspiration from those discussions for planning events for their own chapters. The meeting wrapped up with Dr. Kuchera announcing upcoming SPS elections and scholarships that students can apply for. Then, the meeting came to an end after a long, fun, and productive day at Duke University. The Zone 5 participants left energized and excited for the upcoming year.

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