Zone 17 Spring Meeting

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SPS Zone Meeting

April 8, 2016 to April 9, 2016

Seattle, WA

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students


Marjorie Olmstead

SPS Chapter:

The University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, WA hosted the zone 17 spring meeting April 8-9, 2016. The event started out with a Friday night social and physics demonstrations. Pizza, soda and cookies were provided for those attending early. The demonstrations were conducted by members of UW club.

The next morning the event started at 9 AM with introductions by the UW Physics Department Chair, Blayne Heckel and National SPS President, DJ Wagner. We provided a breakfast of bagels, muffins, oranges, juice, and coffee.

We then played a game of physics jeopardy led by one of our members. We encouraged the participants to split up into groups containing members not from their own chapter. The winning group won a set of glass mugs branded with the UW Physics logo. The gifts were provided by our department free of charge.

We then had a talk by UW faculty member Paula Heron. Title and abstract posted below:

UW Professor Paula Heron—Research on the learning and teaching of physics: An important focus for physicists

It is well known that many students emerge from traditional university physics courses without having developed a functional understanding of important basic concepts. In the past few decades, an increasing number of physicists have responded to this challenge by applying methods of research based on those they have employed successfully in investigations of the physical world. Physicists have developed research-based instructional materials and methods that have been subjected to repeated testing, evaluation, and redesign.

The presentation gave a brief overview of physics education research and illustrated the process of identifying effective instructional strategies with examples.

This then led to talks by our undergraduate attendees. We had two speakers, their abstracts are listed below:

Brianna Stamas, University of Oregon

The most basic question about our universe remains unanswered: what is everything fundamentally made of? Everything we know of only makes up 4% of the universe, a significant fraction of the remaining 96% is made of an unknown fundamental particle referred to as dark matter. In an attempt to identify the dark particle, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland is recreating the conditions of the Big Bang in hopes of creating the particle. The ATLAS Experiment is one of two general purpose detectors at the LHC. In anticipation of possibly discovering new physics, the ATLAS detector will undergo numerous hardware upgrades in the coming years, one of which will be an improvement to the existing trigger system. The LHC collides bunches of protons every 25 ns, which amounts to a lot of data in an extremely short period of time. The trigger system chooses which collisions to keep and record and which events to overlook. Specifically, in order to improve the missing transverse energy (MET) trigger, an adapted topological clustering algorithm can run on the new hardware for reconstruction of proton-proton interactions in the ATLAS detector. The MET trigger is crucial in being able to detect a previously undetectable particle. This study investigates the performance of clustering algorithms for the MET trigger using simulated data.

Kyle Roberts, University of Washington – Spheromak Fusion Reaction

HIT-SI is a special type of fusion reactor, designed to allow very high energy reactions and therefore very productive fusion reactions. HIT-SI stands for Helicity Injected Torus - Steadily Inductive. It attempts to inject plasma into the Torus at a steady rate, inducing a current within the plasmoid in order to stabilize it. Hopefully, an equilibrium can be reached, allowing the plasmoid to remain very stable are high energies. The hope of this method is to eliminate resonance, so that higher energy states can be reached and a profitable fusion reaction can be achieved. My research is in data acquisition, particularly with the video and imaging data. Most of HIT-SI's current publication is related to magnetic confinement, instead of actual fusion output.

Kyle Roberts, University of Washington

Next, we had a poster session. Two of the attendees participated, Frank McKay of University of Washington and Eryn Cangi of University of Oregon. You can see images of them standing in front of their posters below.

Poster Session

For the next hour we had lunch. This was a great opportunity for the attendees to explore the physics building a little bit, and get to know members from other chapters. We provided them sandwiches, salad, chips, cookies, and soda.

We then had our final talk by UW Professor Jeffrey Wilkers. Abstract below:

UW Professor Jeffrey Wilkes—Neutrino Oscillations

The Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory in Japan (see display outside the entrance to this room) made crucial contributions to particle physics, leading to two Nobel Prizes. I will describe the physics involved (observing fundamental quantum effects on a macroscopic scale!), how the detector works, the discoveries made, and ongoing work with this versatile tool.

We then proceeded to have the chapter reports and SPS business. Our Zone Councilor Stan Micklavzina reminded us about the upcoming national council elections. Then the participating chapters gave their reports of what they had done the past year. This was a great opportunity for us all to hear and share.

Chapter reports and SPS business

The event concluded with tours of the UW Physics research labs. We separated into groups, who each got to tour three out of six labs available. These labs varied from different subjects such as high energy physics, to particle physics and condensed matter. The tours of the individual labs were led by graduate student researchers.


When planning this event, we tried to focus primarily on research. We came to this decision because UW finds itself as one of the largest research institutions in the zone, let alone the country. We did this by having talks by faculty members, students, and lab tours.

We had around 50-60 attendees in total. We had representation by many different chapters. University of Washington, University of Oregon, University or Washington, Bothell, and Green River College were in attendance. We even had some students from other local community colleges attend such as Everett Community College and Seattle Central College. A full album of our pictures can be found on our chapter Facebook page.

Areas of Alignment: