SPS and ΣΠΣ—A Home Base for Physics Students

Share This:



Chapter Profile

SPS and ΣΠΣ—A Home Base for Physics Students


Betty A. Young, Professor of Physics and SPS Advisor, Santa Clara University

The SPS and ΣΠΣ chapters at Santa Clara University (SCU) provide wonderful opportunities for our students to thrive during their undergraduate years and beyond. SCU is an undergraduate, Jesuit, liberal arts institution established in 1968. The physics department offers BS degrees in physics (traditional or biophysics track) and engineering physics (EP, several tracks), typically graduating 10 to 15 students each year.

Our SPS group enjoys organizing social events, which include trivia competitions and Quiz Bowl (using a homemade Arduino buzzer control console, of course!), board game and movie nights, local trips and tours, barbecues, and other get-togethers that help to foster a warm spirit of collegiality in the department. These events enable physics majors and minors at all levels to see each other outside of classes and form strong, lasting bonds.

Our chapter also hosts or co-hosts seasonal and family-friendly events with a physics twist, such as making liquid nitrogen ice cream, setting up telescopes for public observing nights on campus, building functional(!) organic batteries with pumpkins, and many others. Perhaps most importantly, we have a dedicated SPS room in the department that serves as a much-needed home base—students can be there anytime, day or night, to study, hang out, play games, tutor, read, plan events, or commiserate about graduate school applications. This fall the department is moving to a modern new facility at SCU, and one of the highlights of relocating is knowing that it will include a dedicated SPS room that our chapter can use for years to come!

We also have an SPS journal club, quarterly alumni speaker events, and a new SPS “Physics, Explained” series of talks that encourage physics and EP students to investigate emerging areas in physics, ask questions, and share ideas in a fun and nonthreatening environment. SPS mentoring and tutoring programs at SCU give our newest majors a lifeline—a person to talk to at any time for extra support, guidance, and friendship. And as the younger SPS students gain experience and knowledge, they get to pay it forward by mentoring the classes after them.

In their senior year, SPS members who have consistently performed at the highest academic levels are inducted into ΣΠΣ. In the past five years we’ve added 28 new members to our chapter, which now includes 213 alums. This fall we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the SCU Physics Class of 1970 (delayed a year by COVID-19) and will host a panel featuring seven of the eight ΣΠΣ inductees from 1970. Panelists will share their diverse experiences after leaving SCU with a physics degree.

Although each year we invite a few early- or mid-career alumni back to campus to discuss their paths with our SPS and Women in Physics clubs or give a colloquium, this is the first time we’ll have a large contingent of later-career alumni meet with current undergraduates.

About two-thirds of our alums go on to pursue graduate studies in fields such as physics, engineering, materials science, math, computer science, business, law, medicine, and teaching. To prepare for this, we aim to give every major the opportunity to do undergraduate physics research or an internship each year. Our majors participate in local, national, and even international physics conferences, and several have been able to do research overseas with SCU physics faculty or their colleagues. A department highlight each year is the SCU Physics Student Research Symposium, where students give a formal presentation of their research to a public audience.

We also teach every course in our robust curriculum every year. This enables physics and EP majors to establish a solid foundation and have the opportunity to take more advanced topical courses—including solid state, optics, advanced quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, cosmology, and astrophysics—at the optimal time in their college career.

We are a tight-knit department that focuses on helping our students thrive—not just in college, but in life. SPS and ΣΠΣ are key to achieving this goal.

SCU SPS members make batteries from pumpkins. Photo courtesy of the SCU SPS chapter.


More from this Department

Chapter Profile