Zone 8 Spring Meeting

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Cumberland Mountain State Park

SPS Zone Meeting

March 4, 2016 to March 6, 2016

Cumberland Mountain State Park, TN

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), chapter hosted the Spring 2016 Society of Physics Students Zone 8 meeting from March 4th – 6th, 2016, at the Cumberland Mountain State Park in Tennessee.

We decided to host the meeting on as small a budget as possible so that many students could attend. Typically, attendees are responsible for their own lodging, and often several of their own meals. Although zone meetings may have a small registration fee, it is typically these other costs that are prohibitive for attendees. We were able to control costs for lodging and food by hosting our zone meeting at a state park where we rented cabins. By also buying and preparing the food for the conference ourselves, we further reduced the cost for students. Additionally, hosting a meeting at a state park presents the opportunity for fun activities not typically found at zone meetings, such as hiking and telescope viewing. We charged students a $50 registration fee, which included all food and lodging expenses. (In hindsight, this fee probably should have been slightly higher, perhaps $60.)

Students work in a cabin to complete the team logic puzzle competition.

Forty-three students attended the meeting, representing the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Middle Tennessee State University, the University of North Alabama, and Kennesaw State University.

Nine students presented their research, in oral or poster form. These included eight students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and one student from Middle Tennessee State University.

Our invited speakers were all from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The decision to invite our own faculty also helped us keep costs for the conference low. The speakers were very willing to speak at the conference, and we appreciate their willingness to drive out to the state park from Knoxville. Our speakers addressed different topics in physics, including neutron physics, theoretical and computational condensed matter physics, and computational astrophysics. Our final speaker spoke about the current energy crisis facing America and the world, and how physicists might be able to help resolve it. Finally, several faculty members and graduate students from UTK brought telescopes to observe the night sky. We were very fortunate to have clear skies during the viewing.

Students listen to Dr. Steven Johnston (UTK) speak about his work in condensed matter.

In order to address students’ specific interests and concerns, we organized three different break-out sessions on Saturday. These sessions were entitled “Beginning Undergraduate Research,” “Being a Leader in Women in Physics,” and “Combining Art and Physics.” Each session had roughly equal attendance, and each was valuable to those that attended. In the “Undergraduate Research” session, several students talked about how they got involved with research and how their undergraduate research benefitted them in and out of the classroom. Attendees were then able to ask questions of the presenters. The “Women in Physics” seminar was led by the founder and other members of our own Women in Physics group at UTK. This session focused on specific concerns that women in physics might encounter, as well as how to start a Women in Physics group. Finally, the “Art and Physics” seminar saw participants geometrically prove the Cauchy-Schwartz inequality with construction paper and scissors. Participants also learned about other visual aids for physics and math concepts.

Our other activities included a hike and a team logic puzzle competition. The hike proved to be one of the most fun activities during the weekend, thanks in part to the exceptional weather. The state park was quite beautiful as well. The team logic puzzle was a good way of introducing the students to each other. Attendees enjoyed stretching their brains and competing for prizes.

We provided and prepared all food for the conference, except for pizza for dinner on Friday evening. On Saturday, we provided a sandwich spread for lunch and cooked out for dinner. Providing the food ourselves was a big contributor to keeping costs low, although preparing all of the food was quite stressful. In the future, we will probably attempt to do the same thing but will try to be better organized in how we prepare the food.

All in all, the conference was quite a success. Students said they had a great time and really enjoyed the non-traditional setting of the conference. There were some aspects of the conference that we could have organized better, but most of these were minor. Although there was some difficulty in transporting materials from the host institution to the state park, we do recommend that other zones consider hosting their own zone meetings in similar locations. Our zone meeting was great (lower-cost) fun.

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