Connecting Worlds

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Message from the President

Connecting Worlds

Connecting Worlds


William DeGraffenreid, California State University, Sacramento

Sigma Pi Sigma president William DeGraffenreid opens the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress in Orlando, FL. Photo by Ken Cole.

“Whew, what a weekend!” That’s what I remember thinking as I sat on my flight home from last fall’s Quadrennial Physics Congress (PhysCon) in Orlando. The three days were filled with activities: six outstanding plenary speakers, two special lunchtime speakers, six workshops, sixty exhibitors, nearly two hundred undergraduate research posters, an art competition, a special tour of the Kennedy Space Center (alligators, eagles, and launchpads, oh my!), and Club Congress (a killer physics dance party) on Saturday night. Based on the conversations that I had with many of the attendees and others that I overheard while walking around the convention center, I am confident that all the students who attended returned to their home campus with an expanded enthusiasm for their studies and are kick-starting outreach activities in their own departments. I can’t wait to read the annual chapter reports from this year.

While we were able to share the excitement of physics with some six hundred undergraduate physics majors, this is only a small fraction of physics majors in the United States. We want to develop the same enthusiasm in all of those who were not able to attend. This is where Sigma Pi Sigma and the Society of Physics Students have been working very diligently since the Congress. I wanted to take some time to share with you some of our strategies for spreading the word.

A program that has been particularly useful in sharing information about what happens at professional meetings is our Student Reporter program. For many years now, we’ve sent undergraduate students to national physics meetings of organizations such as The American Physical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and others, to write stories for SPS publications. This year, due to the generosity of a number of people and organizations, we were able to help support several teams of student reporters to attend PhysCon. Each team was assigned to interview and provide reports on speakers, workshops, or other PhysCon events. The reports are starting to make their way into our publications. We have several excerpts in this issue of Radiations, and there are several others in the Society of Physics Student’s most recent issue of The SPS Observer (head over to to see them).

Even though the Congress is behind us, it continues to live on the Internet. Several of the plenary talks have been archived on our website ( You can watch Freeman Dyson’s talk, “Living through Four Revolutions,” or read the slides that Jocelyn Bell Burnell showed as she discussed “Reflections on the Predicted End of the World in December 2012” (note: all ended well). I encourage you to visit the “Plenary Talks” page to view these and others (

One of the most exciting things about PhysCon was the geographic representation of the participants. Not only did we have attendees from all corners of the country, we also had a large contingent from Southeast University in China! We expect that all of these students will be anxious to share what they learned at PhysCon with others, and what better place to do that than an SPS Zone Meeting? Having spoken extensively with representatives on the National Council who will be participating in these regional meetings, I know that the Congress will be discussed. In particular, the material covered in the PhysCon workshops is well suited for such meetings. The workshops covered themes like “Connecting Science and Public Policy,” “Connecting Diverse Perspectives in Science,” “Connecting Students and Careers,” and “Connecting Physics and the Public.” By participating in these workshops, students gained a much broader picture of how science, and physics in particular, interacts with the broader world.

So what happens next? In the coming months we’ll be working hard to continue harnessing the enthusiasm that PhysCon generated, and it seems that our work will be rather easy. We had a record number of applicants for our SPS Summer Internship program. The National Council has begun discussions on upcoming themes on which to focus our programs in the coming years, and we are already starting to work on the 2016 Congress. For those of you who haven’t heard, we will be heading west to San Jose, CA, the heart of the Silicon Valley. The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center has already agreed to open their facility for tours by those attending the Congress.

What shall we do until then? Connect worlds, of course...

Pictured with *William DeGraffenreid (first row right) at the 2012 Congress are past presidents of Sigma Pi Sigma *Thomas Olsen and Ann Viano (first row), along with *Steve Feller, *Diane Jacobs, and Charles Miner (back row). Photo by Ken Cole. *Members of the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress Planning Committee.

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