Zone 8 Meeting

Share This:

SPS Zone Meeting

February 23, 2018 to February 24, 2018

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students


Sidney Lower

SPS Chapter:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Society of Physics Students chapter held the zone 8 meeting on February 23rd and 24th 2018. The UIUC chapter had not hosted a zone meeting since the fall of 2014, so we made sure to plan things well in advance to make the meeting as successful as possible since none of our members or officers had been around during the planning of the previous meeting. As many of our members and SPS officers had attended professional conferences in the past, such as the American Astronomical Society meeting and the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), we had great ideas and suggestions going into the planning of this meeting and things we wanted to see more of in our meeting. We wanted our zone meeting to be centered on student research and the advancement of our members in the industry and other post-graduate plans. The students that attended had a great time and thanked the UIUC SPS officers for hosting the 2018 zone 8 meeting. Overall, 35 students attended the meeting, with 7 students visiting from Middle Tennessee State University, 1 from University of Kentucky, 3 from University of Tennessee Knoxville, 3 from Murray State University, and about 20 students from UIUC (some students did not attend the entire meeting).

The Meeting

We decided to hold the meeting early in the spring semester, so students would be able to attend without worrying about missing out on semester exams, etc. We also knew we wanted this meeting to be accessible by all students, so we charged each student a reasonable registration fee of $15, which covered catering costs for three meals across the two days. Most of the meeting activities happened on the 24th, so even if students could not make it the entire time, they would not miss out on the most important things.

On Friday, we held optional lab tour sessions to show visiting students the type of exciting physics and astronomy research that is happening on campus. The meeting kicked off with a welcome address by Professor Dale Van Harlingen, the head of the UIUC physics department, Professor Filippini, the UIUC SPS faculty advisor, and Sidney Lower, the president of the UIUC SPS chapter. Sidney introduced the agenda for the meeting and gave an overview of the UIUS SPS chapter, highlighting the successes and difficulties faced by the chapter. A pizza dinner was served in the physics student lounge and was followed by a dessert of liquid nitrogen ice cream, made by Spender Hulsey, the lead coordinator of PhysVan, the outreach group fo the
UIUC physics department. We then did ice-breaker activities, like Fermi Challenge Problems, which are order-of-magnitude estimation problems that Enrico Fermi famously posed to his students. Students paired up in teams to compete for candy and prizes provided by SPS national. 

The full meeting started on Saturday with a great breakfast and with a fantastic and informative talk on graduate school by Professor Lance Cooper, the associate head of the UIUC physics graduate program followed by a panel of 5 UIUC physics graduate students who answered student questions and provided advice on applying and working in graduate school. The keynote talk was delivered by Professor Tony Leggett, the 2003 Nobel Prize winner for his pioneering work in superfluidity. His talk was on the subject of Bell’s theorem and interesting quantum mechanics phenomenon. For lunch, the UIUC SPS members showed the visiting students favorite places to eat in Champaign and Urbana. 

After lunch, the first round of student talks started, featuring Niko Urriola, a UIUC undergrad working in a biophysics lab, and Peyton Nanney, an undergraduate from the University of Tennessee Knoxville working in condensed matter. This was followed by another informative talk focused on being successful in the industry with a physics degree. We discussed ways to feature skills learned in physics on resumes and LinkedIn, how to be effective in an interview and career fairs, and what to expect as a physicist in the business world. Many students praised this talk, as most discussion about post-undergraduate plans focus on grad school and do not offer much advice about what the majority of physics grads go on to do in the industry.

The second round of student talks began after a short break and featured great talks by UIUC physics undergrads Grace Sun and Alexander Layton. Following this, many students presented research posters to the rest of the students. Although the poster session was only planned for an hour, many students stayed behind for longer to further discuss the research that had been done by the other students. Dinner came after and although some students said goodbyes, many students stayed behind to continue talking and playing games well into the evening.


The 2018 zone 8 meeting was a great success. Everyone had a great time networking with fellow SPS members and learned a lot over the two days of the meeting. Even though planning and hosting the meeting was a little stressful, the end result made it worth it. One thing that could be improved upon for the next zone meeting would be better advertisement of the meeting. We reached out to all zone 8 SPS leaders during the several months of planning, but only four visiting schools were represented. This meeting was great, but having more members attend would be even better. Hosting this meeting made the UIUC SPS members excited for what SPS national has in store and we are eager to attend the next zone 8 meeting.

Areas of Alignment:

Members of the Middle Tennessee State University chapter of SPS take a group picture with Professor Tony Leggett (left) after his talk.

Professor Lance Cooper is joined by UIUC physics grad students to give advice on how to successfully apply for grad school and how to make the most out of being a grad student.

Professor Leggett gives his talk on Bell’s Theorem and interesting quantum mechanical phenomena. Professor Leggett won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2003 for his groundbreaking work with superfluidity and superconductivity.

Jacquelyn Schmidt, the UIUC SPS Vice President, talks about preparing to be successful in the industry as a physics major. She led activities for improving resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and career fair pitches.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream was made by Spencer Hulsey, the coordinator for PhysVan, the student outreach group in the UIUC physics department.

Students from UIUC and Middle Tennessee State University participate in the Fermi Challenge Problems activity. They were given outrageous scenarios to estimate quantities for and competed to have the highest score by guessing the correct order of magnitude.

UIUC Physics Student Niko Urriola talks about his research in a biophysics lab, which focuses on efforts to understand transposons in E. Coli for use in future antibacterial methods.