Sharing Ideas Leads to New Friends, Innovative Ideas, and Endless Talk of a Human Newton’s Cradle

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Sharing Ideas Leads to New Friends, Innovative Ideas, and Endless Talk of a Human Newton’s Cradle


Madelyn Johnson with Young Moua, SPS Reporters, University of Northern Iowa

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SPS reporters and UNI physics club officers Young Moua and Madelyn Johnson showcase items that represent their chapter, including T-shirts, pens, light diffraction glasses, and Ping-Pong paddles! Photo courtesy of Madelyn Johnson and Young Moua.

In October more than 1,200 undergraduate physics and astronomy students, their mentors, and other supporters, gathered for the 2022 Physics Congress. Among renowned speakers, hands-on workshops, and engaging tours, a favorite event was Breaking Boundaries. During this time, SPS chapters from around the country showcased their activities and personalities with displays, demos, T-shirts, and swag. SPS reporters from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) were on hand to capture the experience.

The fall of 2022 was the first time we’d had an active physics club at UNI in two years, due to pandemic restrictions. We wanted to participate in Breaking Boundaries but weren’t sure what objects best represented our chapter. It didn’t help that we were all new officers. Unfamiliar with the physics club inventory, we went through everything the physics club has ever owned: misspelled T-shirts, tattoo guns, broken lasers, a cardboard cutout of Einstein … But what really represented our club (and could fit in our carry-on bags)? Finally, after an afternoon of running around the physics building, fellow SPS member Young Moua and I put some things together.

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The Grove City College SPS chapter displays pictures and demonstrations from their activities. Photo courtesy of Madelyn Johnson and Young Moua.

With half my bag filled with old club T-shirts, Ping-Pong paddles, and balancing birds, we set off for Washington, DC. The afternoon of Breaking Boundaries, Young and I grabbed all our stuff and headed downstairs. We were surprised by how many people were already there! Expecting a small, low-key event, we were overwhelmed by the jovial and busy atmosphere. We quickly set up our table, and I went to visit the other chapter tables while Young represented our chapter.

I started with Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University - Prescott, and continued down the line of tables, talking with students and professors about each of their chapters. Initially I had dreaded talking with so many people, but I quickly changed my attitude. Every single table was full of amazing people who were so fun to talk with, and each chapter stood out in a unique way. Rowan University showcased its love of rocketry by bringing some of its model rockets. St. Joseph’s University described how they work with their local community garden and run a summer camp encouraging girls to explore physics. I was having so much fun talking with different chapters that 45 minutes passed without my noticing!

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Rowan University Physics and Astronomy Club members with items that represent their chapter, including model rockets they built. Photo courtesy of Madelyn Johnson and Young Moua.

I swapped places with Young and, for the second half of the event, stayed at the UNI physics club table. I talked to students from schools around the country, presenting old T-shirts, light diffraction glasses, and, of course, Ping-Pong paddles while sharing our activities and ideas with others. Our most popular items were the balancing birds, which we use to demonstrate center of mass during outreach events, and the Ping-Pong paddles. We even had a few people stop by to bounce the ball back and forth! While our physics club has many professional goals, such as inclusion and outreach, one of our favorite objectives is to defeat our department head, Dr. Paul Shand, in the biannual Ping-Pong tournament. UNI physics students are united in working toward this goal, dedicating time to practice in the student lounge in hopes of one day stealing the trophy from Dr. Shand!

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Texas Lutheran University’s SPS chapter shows off its physics-themed Lotería card. The chapter plays this traditional, bingolike game with their university’s Hispanic Club to spread their love of physics. Photo courtesy of Madelyn Johnson and Young Moua.

One visitor, Calvin Sprouse from Central Washington University, told me how much he liked Breaking Boundaries. His chapter took special note of a spandex gravity well presented by The George Washington University. Calvin found the idea fascinating and hoped his chapter would construct one when they returned home. One of our UNI members, Jake, talked to students from Rhodes College who had created a human Newton’s cradle in collaboration with their school’s rock-climbing team (see page 23). He was so invested in their cool idea that he talked about it all the way home to Cedar Falls. Maybe we’ll have a talk with our rock-climbing team!

Breaking Boundaries turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the Physics Congress. We made new friends and got new fundraising, outreach, and event ideas for our own club. Like other chapters, our UNI physics club is just now coming back after COVID. We’ve struggled to find our footing these first few months. Thanks to this inspiring experience and so many great ideas, I believe our club will be able to pull off many successful events in the coming semester!


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