Taking It to the Streets

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Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action

Taking It to the Streets

SPS National Council Highlights Outreach


SPS Staff

At the SPS booth, children learn about the properties of non-Newtonian fluids by playing with Oobleck, a mixture of cornstarch and water. Photo by Matt Payne.

At the SPS National Council meeting in September, elected faculty and student representatives from each of the 18 SPS zones participated in lively discussions about the future of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, engaged in committee work, and, for the first time, hosted a booth at a true Washington, DC, street festival with several live music stages, multiple vendors, and a range of culinary attractions. The SPS physics outreach booth, the only science-themed booth in the 10-block H Street Festival, was situated in the kids section. There, council members spread the wonders of physics through hands-on activities with rainbow (diffraction) glasses, thin films (bubbles), and non-Newtonian fluids (aka Oobleck, a mixture of cornstarch and water).

In recent years the SPS National Council has frequently participated in a science outreach event as part of its meeting, but this year it was especially relevant. At the 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress last November, chapter votes determined the most important area of service for SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma to be “supporting society outreach and communicating with the public.” In response to this, the council adopted the following statement on outreach during a business meeting prior to the festival:

The Society of Physics Students recognizes that outreach inspires scientific literacy while promoting public understanding of the benefits of physics education and research. Community and educational partnerships also foster curiosity and passion in the next generation. These activities enrich the experience of the participating undergraduate students as ambassadors of science by promoting a deeper commitment to their discipline. We are committed to providing programs, resources, and opportunities that highlight physics and encourage community outreach partnerships. //

DJ Wagner

SPS President, Grove City College

One little girl had been playing with bubbles and Oobleck for the better part of an hour. I decided to give her a ‘Future Physicist’ pin. She wanted it prominently displayed on the front of her shirt. When I pinned it on her, she asked, “Does this mean I’m one of y’all now?” My heart just melted as I assured her she was indeed “one of us.” That one question made the whole event worthwhile for me.

Maria Ramos

AZC, Zone 18, Sacramento State University

Seeing the awe in those kids’ eyes when they played with the Oobleck and seeing their smiles when they played with the diffraction glasses and soap bubbles was very inspiring for me and really made me want to encourage my school’s SPS chapter (as well as the other chapters in my zone) to do more outreach events at our local elementary, middle, and high schools. All in all, it was a very inspiring and amazing experience.

Stanley Micklavzina

Zone Councilor, Zone 17, University of Oregon

I interacted with the parents of the kids who were playing with soap bubbles, showing parents how to make your fingers ‘disappear’ when holding a glass of water. They appreciated the physics along with a glass of water!

Steve Feller

2016 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress Co-Chair, Coe College

A woman who came over to look at things obviously had a strong interest in science. When I asked about her interest, she told me that she teaches middle school science in the District of Columbia. She left the area laden with extra copies of all I could find for her—perhaps two dozen diffraction glasses, several posters, and many pencils. I am sure they are being put to good use.

Brooke Haag

Zone Councilor, Zone 18, American River College - Los Rios

I think my favorite part of the day was moderating the Oobleck. The kids were so totally fascinated, and every parent was utterly horrified. A girl with tiger face paint spent no less than 45 minutes playing with the Oobleck. Over and over she would make a hard ball with it and let it trickle through her fingers. She would then show each successive kid how to operate the Oobleck.

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