Hang Out Online with Physicists and Astronomers

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Hang Out Online with Physicists and Astronomers

Google Platform Enables Interactive Seminar Series


Will Slaton, Associate Professor, SPS Chapter Advisor, University of Central Arkansas in Conway

Abby Kavner, a mineral physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, was only one of many speakers to participate in our Google Hangouts series. Photo courtesy of Will Slaton.

Does your college or university’s physics department have a regular seminar series for undergraduates? If not, do you wish it did?

Like many undergraduate-only physics departments, ours at the University of Central Arkansas had this problem. Here’s how we solved it, and how you can join us!

Over the past academic year seminar speakers gave online talks to our undergraduates on topics ranging from high-energy physics to astrophysics to engineering via live-streamed Google Hangouts. Presentations by experts from across the United States, Puerto Rico, and Australia covered a range of fields, including many outside the expertise of our institution. The series is currently supported by a grant through the University of Central Arkansas Foundation, which provides $100 to our seminar speakers for their time.

How does the seminar work? It would not be financially feasible for us to bring in speakers from such a broad geographic area, so we make use of Google Hangouts. In this way we are building an online physics and astronomy community at the undergraduate level across campuses with a decent Internet connection. Speakers can interact with viewers across the globe via Hangout’s live audio/video or text feature, as well as through the Twitter hashtag #GHOSeminar. Most of our presenters are Twitter users. I’ve found that scientists on Twitter are fearless when trying new technology and eager to share their science with others.

Prior to each seminar we set up and advertise a G+ event page with details about the event such as the name of the speaker, the title of the talk, and any background reading or background viewing materials. Because not everyone has used the Google Hangout interface before, I work behind the scenes with the speaker to get them familiar with it prior to the seminar.

A laptop with external speakers and a digital projector helps our local audience see and hear clearly. Why not set up a laptop for your own chapter and join us? Seminars typically last an hour or more with plenty of time for Q&A from the audience. Our department and SPS chapter split the costs of pizza, drinks, and cookies.

Why participate? Seminar series are important, especially for undergraduates, because they allow exploration of the breadth and depth of physics and astronomy before career decisions are made. Interested in exoplanet research or high-energy physics? Participate in a seminar with someone in that field. Got a question for a practicing scientist about their life or job? Ask! What advice would an astrophysicist give her undergraduate self? She’ll tell the entire community. I also believe an undergraduate seminar series is important to show the faces of the people who make up the physics and astronomy fields. When students at primarily undergraduate institutions don’t see people who look like themselves in research positions, they may get the wrong impression about these fields. Representation matters.

If you have suggestions for seminar speakers or topics, please share them with me. If you would like to try a Google Hangout one-on-one before joining a seminar, let me know and we can arrange a date and time. Email me at wvslaton [at] uca.edu.

Our next seminar will be by Dr. Milton Garces of the University of Hawai’i in Kailua-Kona, who will speak about infrasound on September 8th. I hope you will tune in and hang out with us! //

Join the Conversation

We want you and your SPS chapter to join our seminar series! Your voices and questions will increase the value of the seminar for other participants and the presenter. And if 20 SPS chapters or their home departments donate $100 each, we could fund 20 seminars over the course of an academic year. To be informed about future seminars: (1) follow me on Twitter (@wslaton), (2) regularly check the seminar homepage, or (3) follow “UCA SPS” on G+ and our YouTube channel. Let’s set a goal of 100 undergraduates participating in seminars by this time next year!

Check Out Previous Seminars

A list of our past speakers with seminar titles and links to the recordings can be found on the seminar homepage, http://faculty.uca.edu/wvslaton/GHOSeminar.html, or on our YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/UCASPS.


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