Connections That Count

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The Director's Space

Connections That Count


Toni Sauncy

Sigma Pi Sigma Director Toni Sauncy (center) is flanked by her former students from Angelo State University at the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress. Photo by Liz Dart Caron.

It is hard to believe that it has been more than six months since the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress (PhysCon), hosted by Sigma Pi Sigma. These ‘follow-up months’ have been filled with a surplus of ordinary and somewhat tedious tasks (especially when compared to the high level of excitement that permeated the meeting) aimed at properly archiving PhysCon 2012 for posterity. And while the labor of sorting through registration records, organizing workshop documents, captioning hundreds of photos, reading dozens of student-authored reports, and finding a storage place for the on-paper memory of PhysCon 2012 might seem at first glance like a soporific activity, it has been an enlightening experience. Like any other valid scientific endeavor, it is through the examination of the data that we learn.

The analysis is producing some important lessons. One of the most obvious is confirmative: there is a large number of undergraduate students and their mentors who are strongly interested in a conference that combines world-class science with opportunities to build connections and broaden horizons. With over 800 attendees, a lengthy waiting list, and the office already receiving inquiries about the plans for 2016, the interest in and need for such a unique gathering is undeniable. Registration data reveals that PhysCon 2012 achieved demographic diversity unrealized at many other physics meetings, giving us hope that efforts aimed at inclusivity are working. The roster of attendees included more than 80% undergraduate students with over 30% women and 20% underrepresented minorities. All eighteen of the SPS geographic zones were represented and for the first time, a group of students from an international chapter made the trek.

Combing through the data teaches us. It strengthens our resolve to keep looking forward and boosts our confidence that it is possible to make an impact on the face of physics in future generations.

An SPS member from Southeast University in Nanjing, China presents Sigma Pi Sigma Director Toni Sauncy with a gift from their chapter at the 2012 Congress. Photo by Liz Dart Caron.PhysCon 2012 also taught us that coolness spans generations. The photos of so many students waiting in line for a moment to speak with or get autographs from Freeman Dyson, world-class scientist and octogenarian, tell us that wanting to participate in a scientific revolution never goes out of style. Despite the gap in years, the students clearly felt connected to someone who sees the world like they do.

As we continue to glean lessons from the PhysCon experience, we also take pause in this issue of Radiations to acknowledge the many Sigma Pi Sigma alumni and others who generously support SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma programs through donations. These generous donations connect the alumni base with the current set of students who benefit from scholarships, awards, internships and programs.
The connections of physicists at all levels make the physics community a great place to be.

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