SPS Zone Meeting
February 17, 2023 to February 18, 2023
California Polytechnic University, PomonaMeeting host: By:
Contributed by the SPS Chapters at University of San Diego, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego; edited by Chad Kishimoto, Zone 18 CouncilorSPS Chapter:
Amidst groves of fruit trees, alongside pastures of cows, horses, and sheep, and in the shadow of the snow-capped San Gabriel mountains sits California Polytechnic University at Pomona – Cal Poly Pomona. The SPS chapter at Cal Poly Pomona invited chapters across Zone 18 to engage in a weekend dedicated to physics, astronomy, and to strengthen the bonds of fellowship that connect us all.
Students from around the greater Los Angeles region braved the infamous Southern California traffic to reach Pomona, in the eastern outskirts of the metropolis. The University of San Diego chapter trekked northward all afternoon in stop-and-go traffic, and the chapter from the University of California, Berkeley, packed up a car in the early morning to arrive by nightfall. In total, fifty SPS members representing ten SPS chapters gathered at Cal Poly Pomona for the 2023 Zone 18 Meeting.
The meeting began with a plethora of pizza, drinks, and sweets. The Executive Board of the Cal Poly Pomona SPS Chapter graciously welcomed us, making us instantly feel at home. Throughout dinner time, the board chatted with all the attendees. After dinner, Dr. Coral Wheeler from Cal Poly Pomona led us through a tour of our place in the universe, from the meeting site to our nearest galactic neighbors. Her talk was awe-inspiring as we enjoyed the beautiful pictures of space and tried to fathom our miniscule place in the vastness of the universe.
After her talk, Dr. Wheeler invited us to join her on the roof, where we could see the twinkling stars above (and the non-twinkling Mars and Jupiter). With Orion standing tall in the southern sky, Mars near zenith, the San Gabriels to our north, and a wisp of clouds making a ribbon across the sky, we gathered to gaze at the heavens. While we queued to view Mars and the Orion Nebula in telescopes, Dr. Wheeler was our enthusiastic guide to what we could see in the skies with the naked eye.
As the evening progressed, we began to turn our attention to those shivering on the roof alongside us. We connected with our peers. Although we had never met, it was notable that we clicked so quickly with each other. We connected through our shared passions and experiences in physics and astronomy. Games of Catan, Cards Against Humanity, and three-dimensional tic-tac-toe erupted and a great time was had by all, until went to get some rest in anticipation of an exciting second day.
Saturday began with a talk from Arian Jadbabaie, a graduate student in the Hutzler Lab at Caltech. He shared with us his work motivated by the intersection of the symmetry present in the Standard Model and the asymmetry needed to generate the particle-antiparticle symmetry observed in the universe. He told us of the joys (and travails) of being an experimental physicist studying cold molecules to explore fundamental physics.
Next, we heard from a panel of Cal Poly Pomona alumni working in aeronautical, defense, medical, and optics. In a discussion moderated by Dr. Alex Small, the department chair and SPS chapter advisor at Cal Poly Pomona, the alumni shared their experiences working in industry. We asked a variety of questions and the panelists shared their insights on how their background in physics helped them in their work, the skills they recommend learning, and why they chose to work in industry.
To complement the industry panel, a panel of graduate students were up next, after lunch. Graduate students from a variety of schools across California joined us in the meeting room and on Zoom to have a discussion about the entire graduate school experience: from applying, to classes, to finding a mentor, and just the general grind of a graduate student. We had a lot of questions, and they gave us honest and personal answers. They shared with us their success and joys, but also their most difficult failures – of not receiving admissions the first time around and failing preliminary exams – and their perseverance through those challenges.
We are at many points in our educational journey, so these two panels provided us insight into our futures. For those of us who have already applied to graduate school, the graduate student panel gave us a look into our future, and it was reassuring to hear that although graduate school is difficult, that we can find our way through those issues. Others were interested in advice from the industry panel in leveraging their physics background toward getting a leg up in the interview process and finding a job they will enjoy. There is such a wide range of opportunities for a physics major, it is so valuable to explore the possibilities, but also the message was that we can change our minds.
Donn Silbermann, an Associate Zone Councilor from the University of Arizona in the ‘80s, spoke about his experiences starting with his SPS involvement and through his long career in optics. We were astonished to learn of all the opportunities in optics he was able to experience after receiving his bachelor’s degree. Moreover, he made a link between business and finance courses that allowed him to thrive as a physicist and an industry expert. In our undergraduate journeys, science and business and humanities feel separate, but it was inspiring to see how Donn incorporated them to build a successful career. From his talk, we realized that learning is lifelong and that science outreach is pivotal to fostering the next generation of scientists.
The Zone Meeting concluded with a group discussion. Our passion for physics and astronomy unites us, even through the difficult courses and homework assignments. We reflected and shared on what makes us want to do physics and why we are confident that this is our path. A group poll surprised us as it was revealed that other students in other SPS chapters struggle with mental health, burnout, and imposter syndrome (just like us and our colleagues).
“It was a pleasure to host the zone meeting and bring physics students together,” shared Mya Do, secretary of the Cal Poly Pomona chapter. “I really enjoyed hearing about SPS activities from other chapters.” Hearing other chapters discuss their activities to cope with stress inspired us. Movie nights! Destress yoga! BBQs! Opportunities to build community and soothe the body and mind. We left with a mission to implement new ideas with our chapter.
The Zone Meeting was a tremendous opportunity for us to build community amongst our own chapter and with SPS chapters throughout the zone who share our passion for physics and astronomy. The talks and panels were inspiring and informative, but the highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to meet new people and express our physics-y personalities while having good laughs. Our gracious hosts from Cal Poly Pomona provided us an opportunity to grow individually as physicists and to grow as SPS chapters. Though the meeting is over, its impact will last in the ways we engage in physics and astronomy and in the ways we engage with our SPS chapter and others. We look forward to our next opportunity to rekindle the bonds we built.
Areas of Alignment: