Spreading the Joy of Physics

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Spreading the Joy of Physics


Joe Popp, former SPS Chapter President, Saint Joseph’s University

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The Saint Joseph’s SPS physics team.

Philadelphia is a city filled with curious students who have yet to discover their passions in life. However, many of its school districts are vastly underfunded, so students are often unable to fully explore their curiosity. The SPS chapter at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) wanted to give the students at Motivation High School a chance to learn about our passion—physics—in ways that might not otherwise be available to them.

SJU alum Despina Nakos, the physics teacher at Motivation High School, reached out to us—her old SPS chapter—to request that we host an event for her physics students. Nakos says she “wanted the students to see how fun physics can be.” Working at a school where the majority of the students are from groups underrepresented in physics and STEM, Nakos wanted to bring the joy she remembers from her SPS days to her classroom.

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SPS treasurer Calvin Huisentruit presents on the Doppler effect and how it relates to the expansion of the universe.

The goal of the event was to introduce students to complex physics topics related to the introductory concepts they learned about in their classes. Its theme was Stuff in Space, and four different stations taught students about the expanding universe using Doppler shift, a star’s equilibrium using Newton’s second law, the existence of dark matter using centripetal forces, and concepts in special relativity. The demonstrations, illustrations, and collaborative environment created a space where the students could be comfortable yielding to their curiosity.

Nakos noted that her students came out of the event with more questions about physics than they had going in, which was exactly what our chapter was hoping for. We know that this is how we feel every day after physics classes and that it’s what gets us to come back the next day, looking for answers. If students come out wanting to learn more, our chapter has done its job.

In a survey conducted after the event, many of the high school students expressed curiosity about the new topics, saying that they were interesting and engaging and that the event changed their perspective on how the universe works.

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Deryk McGarry talks about Newton’s second law and the life cycle of a star. Photos by Nell Grabowski.

The physics majors who volunteered for the event gained a lot from the experience as well. Calvin Huisentruit, who taught the students about the expansion of the universe, says, “It was satisfying seeing how [the students] were mesmerized by phenomena such as the red shift of stars’ light.” Shayna Sit, who organized the students for stations, was impressed to see “so many students interested in the physics topics that were presented.” Overall, our SPS chapter agreed that this was an event to be remembered and a model for the future.

We hope to strengthen our ties with Motivation High School and create new partnerships so that we can share what we know about physics with those who have fewer resources than we do. We believe that curiosity about physics is part of human nature, and everyone deserves an opportunity to see where that curiosity might lead. 


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