Planes, Planets, and Plenty of Physics at the SPS Zone 11 Fall Meeting

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In The Zone - Regional SPS Highlights

Planes, Planets, and Plenty of Physics at the SPS Zone 11 Fall Meeting


Michael Thompson, Zone 11 AZC and SPS Member at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and Jace Waybright, SPS Chapter President at South Dakota State University

Zone 11 meeting attendees pose for a group photo. Photo by Yung Huh.The SPS Zone 11 Fall 2018 meeting at South Dakota State University (SDSU) was a smashing success, complete with an airplane building competition and fiery demos.

Teams designed and built planes using balsa wood, metal washers, super glue, and other materials. Then each was given three tries to toss their planes across the room and compete for the greatest distance. It was a close contest, but the team “Right Hand Rule” won and received a recognition award. Other planes landed in pieces. Minnesota State University Moorhead later wowed the crowd with a Rubens’ tube, which demonstrates wave physics with fire, during a showcase of chapter demos.

The crash landings and demo showcase were just a few of the weekend’s events. The meeting kicked off Friday afternoon with a tour of a local manufacturer of high-tech signs, Daktronics. SPS members particularly appreciated the quality assurance labs, where they found a scanning electron microscope and a large Faraday cage designed to test electromagnetic interference.

At a star party led by Dr. Judy Vondruska from SDSU, we got a fantastic view of both the moon and Saturn while they were still above the horizon. Because of the rapidly falling temperature (it got down to 5 deg F!), the telescopes had to be constantly adjusted as the lenses contracted. This was followed by a warmer event, a Jeopardy-like physics trivia game. Students divided into groups, and we went through 50 questions on a variety of topics, from special relativity to Nobel Prize winners.

The meeting featured two fantastic speakers, Dr. Richard Schnee, from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and Dr. Richard Schultz, from Idaho State University. Dr. Schultz talked about a new generation of nuclear reactors and their benefits, while Dr. Schnee talked about the LUX-ZEPLIN dark matter detection experiment and the importance of low-radioactive backgrounds. SPS members were very enthusiastic to learn about these diverse physics research areas.

Attendees also toured both a materials science lab and a nuclear lab on campus, respectively led by SDSU physics professors Dr. Parashu Kharel and Dr. Robert McTaggart. Both tours emphasized collaborations with companies and universities like 3M, the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, and the University of Northern Iowa. Dr. Kharel also talked about how undergraduates are involved in his research on the synthesis and characterization of novel magnetic materials.

The meeting concluded with research poster presentations and a graduate school fair, during which physics and engineering graduate schools from around the region spoke with SPS members about the possibility of graduate study at their institutions. The poster presentations showcased the fantastic work SPS members and undergraduates do in physics, covering topics from the physics of glass to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

Layne Tieszen, president of the South Dakota School of Mines SPS chapter, reflected on the meeting: “It was great to see a higher chapter turnout this year, as it fostered plenty of interaction between our chapters. These interactions helped spread ideas for SPS activities and also strengthened individual networks, which can be invaluable.”

After an engaging meeting, Zone 11 SPS members left excited about physics and the possibilities for their chapters in the coming year. One of the homemade airplanes goes the distance during the Zone 11 competition. Photo by Michael Thompson.

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