Taking SPS Chapter Research Efforts to New Heights

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SPS Chapters on Hands-on Projects

Taking SPS Chapter Research Efforts to New Heights


Brock Mason, SPS Chapter President, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

The SWOSU Physics Club’s competition rocket blasts off.The Physics Club (SPS) at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) is a small but very active student group. We don’t have a large physics department, but our recruitment extends beyond physics majors, especially to the technology department. This allows us to combine our skills and do some amazing things.

In the fall of 2019, through support from the Oklahoma NASA Space Grant Consortium, we started a rocketry project with the goal of competing in the 2020 Argonia Cup, a national collegiate rocketry competition held in Argonia, Kansas. To compete, each team uses a high-powered rocket to fly a golf ball up to at least 8,000 feet and then deliver the ball as close as possible to a specified landmark near the launch site.

We’ve learned a lot about the construction and physics of rockets, as well as altimeters, accelerometers, and GPS trackers, using microcontrollers such as Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, and much more. Furthermore, we have collaborated with the biology department to see how fruit flies behave under high acceleration in an experiment we call Astroflies. Sadly, the Argonia Cup was cancelled in 2020, but we are preparing to compete in 2021.

To deliver our Argonia Cup golf ball, we decided to use a tiny onboard drone (quadcopter) carried inside the rocket. The challenge is to build a drone small enough to fit in the rocket but strong enough to carry the golf ball even under very windy conditions. This led to some interesting side projects regarding the physics, characteristics, and operation of drones.

Another ongoing project is the building of Dobsonian telescopes with parts collected from old, nonworking telescopes that had accumulated at the SWOSU Observatory. We are using these parts to make simpler, more efficient telescopes that are more easily transported. We started with small telescopes but are making increasingly larger ones. Our latest and largest project is a 16-inch Dobsonian telescope that uses a mirror donated to us 15 years ago. When finished, we will have a large portable “Dob” that we can take to remote public viewing sessions. Eventually we hope to donate some of our student-built telescopes to area high schools.

The Dobsonian telescope project led us to some opportunities for outreach. Monthly through 2019 we brought our telescopes to Roman Nose State Park. Park rangers guided visitors to a hilltop, and we held viewing sessions under the extremely dark western Oklahoma skies. We have also held observing sessions for the Boy Scouts and public viewing sessions at the SWOSU Observatory.

Other recent research projects include using microcontroller-operated seismometers to monitor the recent increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma and engaging in astrophotography and photometry, using our observatory to explore the universe from galaxies to supernovae.
These projects have enabled us to present posters at SPS zone meetings, SWOSU Research Day, and Oklahoma Research Day for the past few years. In the spring of 2020 (pre-COVID), we were asked to do a physics “magic” show in front of the crowd at the Oklahoma Research Day luncheon.

These research projects mean a lot to us as students. While they are great ways to make memories and be a part of something bigger than ourselves, they also enable us to expand our knowledge and skill sets beyond the classroom. The club benefits from its exposure to other schools, alumni, and the university community. This visibility brings in passionate new students who, in turn, create exciting new projects, and the cycle continues. Our project focus really benefits the whole department.

In addition to these projects, the Physics Club helps out each year with Physics Day, when we invite high schools to bring their physics students to campus to see demonstrations, admire our projects, and check out what we have to offer here at SWOSU. Each year we have talks, hands-on activities, and (sometimes wild) demonstrations for over a hundred western Oklahoma STEM students. We have even taken Physics Day to a few high schools.

Our club also hosts several social events each year, including movie nights, a Christmas party, and a Shish-Kebab Night every spring. We work hard, but we also like to play hard!

 Dr. Terry Goforth, Tabitha Taylor, Kaitlyn Schrick, Ryan Horn, and Emma Bollinger. Photos courtesy of the SWOSU Physics Club.

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SPS Chapters on Hands-on Projects