Week 7: Portland!

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Friday, July 26, 2013


Christine O'Donnell

This week was the much-anticipated AAPT Summer Meeting in Portland.  I spent most of Saturday sitting in airports and on airplanes (I had a nice long layover in Houston).  Luckily, I remembered to load my iPod with some TV shows, so the trip wasn’t too boring.  As we landed in Portland, we got a really great view of Mt. Hood from the plane!


Sunday I took time to explore the city in between the Executive Board session and Section Representatives meeting.  During the two meetings, I gave a short presentation about the advocacy tools I’m creating for AAPT.  The response was generally very positive, and several of the Board members and Section Reps were interested in having the resources.

But the more exciting part of Sunday was having time to explore the city – Portland has an eclectic mix of shops, and so it was fun to walk around.  I decided to wander towards Powell’s City of Books, which sells new and used books.  The store spans more than one city block and it’s easy to get lost within the store.  I managed to find “Building 2,” the home of their technical books including physics and astronomy books.  I spent a few hours reading astronomy textbooks and popular science books, and then I decided I had to make a purchase before I tried to buy an entire shelf of astronomy books since there was no way it would fit in my luggage.  Luckily, I had a coupon ($5 off a $25 purchase), so I somewhat arbitrarily set myself a $25 purchase maximum.  I managed to reduce my load of books to a $26.47 purchase and decided it was close enough :)


And these shelves are just the physics section…Building 2 also had separate astronomy, computer science/programming, building, etc. sections. I was too overwhelmed by Building 1 to remember to take photos there, but it was multiple floors of every subject under the sun…

I then walked towards the river (passing several food truck lots along the way) and walked down the park along the Willamette River.  It was a nice view, and the weather was really nice (while Portland was “hot” in terms of temperature, it doesn’t have the oppressing high humidity that DC has). I even caught a glimpse of Mt. Hood across the river!

On Monday morning, since the sessions weren’t particularly interesting to me, I decided to find Portland’s aerial tram.  While walking by the river the previous day, I had noticed some cable cars that passed overhead, and I had found out they’re transportation between Portland and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).  The aerial tram though offers a really nice view of Portland from above!  Since it was a clear day, Mt. St. Helens was visible from OHSU.  Mt. Hood was also visible, but because it was to the east and the sun was in that direction, I couldn’t get a clear photo.


The conference itself was a lot of fun, too. There was a wide range of sessions on a variety of topics, including methods for teaching introductory courses, discussing science and society, and teaching under the Next Generation Science Standards. There were also workshops hosted by companies that create kits and demos for classrooms. I attended one workshop by the Perimeter Institute where they showed their classroom demonstrations for uniform circular motion as part of a kit about dark matter. One of the primary lines of evidence for dark matter is the rotation speeds of stars in galaxies. With the "normal" matter in galaxies (i.e., what we can observe), we would expect stars further from the center of a galaxy to rotate slower about the galactic center. However, the rotation speed does not slow down, which led to the discovery of dark matter around galaxies.

The conference also had time for committee meetings – AAPT is divided into over 15 committees that handle various aspects of physics teaching, including Committees on Women in Physics, Science Education for the Public, and Apparatus. I attended a few meetings, and I think I managed to volunteer to help out the Committee on Space Science & Astronomy on writing position papers on issues important to the Committee, such as whether teachers with physics backgrounds are qualified to teach introductory astronomy classes.

Finally, the conference also had several interesting plenary and awards talks. There were a few awards for teachers and professors that have contributed to the community and improved physics education, and the awardees gave talks about their work. The plenary talks were also good, especially the one hosted by APS. During that session, two researchers talked about their work in synthesizing and discovering elements 112 and beyond. They also discussed efforts at achieving an atom with 183 neutrons, which is where a supposed "island of stability" (i.e., a range where stable superheavy elements exist).


Overall, the conference was a lot of fun, and I hope to be able to attend future AAPT meetings!  After an exhausting day traveling back to DC (again, long layovers aren’t fun…), I was abruptly  reminded of our high humidity.  I could really get used to Portland’s weather and lower humidity…  But alas, I have work to do here in DC.  On Friday, we visited NIST, which was an awesome tour but will have to wait for next week’s journal!

Christine O'Donnell