Students and Stardust

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Special Feature

Students and Stardust

Experiencing the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress


Lily Udumukwu, University of Miami

More than 800 students, alumni, and professors participated in the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress

On November 8, 2012, the University of Miami’s SPS chapter arrived at the Sigma Pi Sigma 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress (PhysCon)—just in time for what would be a once-in-a-lifetime affair for many of the participating students.

Held in Orlando, FL, the conference brought together people of different backgrounds and social circles, linked by one common interest: a passion for physics. The diverse menu of world-class speakers at the event included a Nobel laureate, an astronaut, a sitcom contributor, and a Fellow from the US Department of State. All were luminaries in physics. All were an honor to experience.

Some students at the congress embarked on a “behind-the-scenes look” at the NASA Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island. The tours were specially arranged by Space Center staff, and ours was hosted by a comical (yet committed) retired NASA firefighter. Though he didn't major in science, our host admitted there’s something electric about the human drama of the island, a treasured piece of history he’s been a part of for many years.

It was not the numbers—more than 800 students, faculty, alumni, and professionals who traveled from as far away as China—that made the most profound impression at the congress. Instead, it was the gravity of the attendees' accomplishments, imparted in a series of inspirational anecdotes of immeasurable value. It was enthralling. Strangers only the night before engaged in constructive debates over the importance of science to public policy, in workshops that highlighted science's potential to improve our ever-changing society. Omnipresent was the murmur of excitement and intrigue, as a sea of hundreds broke into resounding applause at the conclusion of yet another anticipated guest speaker’s talk highlighting his or her esteemed contributions to the world of physics.

Dialogue took place over buttered bagels. Earnest and eager students discussed the secrets of the universe with practicing scientists during “Breakfast with the Scientists.” Confident handshakes brought together admissions personnel from top-tier universities and prospective candidates presenting their exceptional resumes at the exhibit hall. In one corner, professors and professionals huddled around a poster presentation. Off-the-cuff conversations with students ensued.

Reverberating throughout the days of this unique and incredible meeting was the theme of “Connections.” Transcending expertise, school, region, and even language, we were united. At the close of this event, the physics students of UM left as a community with newly formed intangible connections, fueled by Nobel laureate John Mather’s parting words: “We are all made of stars.” //

Quadrennial Physics Congress attendees tour NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

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