Society of Physics Students receive national recognition


Photo contributed by Molly Shelton

Members of the Allegheny Chapter of the Society of Physics Students participate in Make A Difference day in fall 2015.

The Allegheny Chapter of the Society of Physics Students held events last year in an effort to expand the program and have more involvement from students both in the physics program and out of it. The planning and work that went into those events were recognized by the Society of Physics Students National Council by naming the Allegheny SPS a Distinguished Chapter for the 2014-15 school year.

According to the SPS National Council website, fewer than 100 chapters are given this recognition nationwide. Allegheny is in the same company as schools ranging from larger in size to the same size. Other schools who received this award include Harvard University, University of Southern California, Purdue University, Syracuse University and other schools across the nation.

SPS is a club recognized by Allegheny Student Government and also a chapter through the SPS National Council that prepares students for their future careers and also aims at outreach in the community, according to Adele Poynor, assistant professor of physics.

“We work at preparing students for jobs in physics,” said Poyner. “We do outreach sometimes to middle school students or elementary school. We have doughnuts every Friday where we invite people to come and talk about physics. We have students go to professional meetings and present their research—either their senior project or if they’ve done summer research. We’ve had students go to national events…[SPS] National [Council] had an online job webinar, so everyone could participate in that.”

The SPS National Council bases their decision to award chapters based off of three criteria: professional activities, physics community interactions and outreach into the community. The Allegheny chapter met and exceeded the requirements in all three of these categories.

In the 2014-15 academic year, which is the year the chapter was recognized, SPS sent four students to present research at the national meeting for the American Physical Society held in San Antonio, Texas. The club also was a key component in organizing the Summer Research Lecture Series in collaboration with students from the mathematics and chemistry departments.

The club organizes a general meeting open to all students on Fridays at 3:30 p.m. in Carr Hall room 108. At this meeting, students—even non-physics students—are welcome to enjoy doughnuts and talk about all things physics. One event the club held was viewing the movie “Gravity” and critiquing its inaccuracies when it comes to the physics—where the club found errors concerning the laws of physics. Over winter break, the club had a birthday party for Isaac Newton and in the 2014-15 academic year, the topic was physics through interpretive dance, according to Poynor.

In the 2014-15 academic year, the club focused its outreach efforts on Make a Difference day where they helped clean up and further beautify a yard. To continue building upon its outreach efforts, the club is reaching out to local schools. Fourth graders from area schools come to Allegheny and test the strength of different types of chocolate bars.

“This year we are doing a how strong is your chocolate lab where they get to try use little candy bars as a bridge and put weights on it and see which chocolate bar is the strongest,” Poynor said. “Just like in real concrete or real materials, what additives you have make a difference in the strength. So we get plain chocolate, then we get the chocolate with the rice krispies in it, then we get the chocolate with the little cookie bits in it and we see which one is the strongest. It actually turns out the rice krispies are the strongest chocolate. That is pretty fun and, of course, the kids get to eat the chocolate afterwards.”

Many of the board members believe that the many different programs were something that made the club standout on the national level, especially the Summer Research Lecture Series.

“I think what really put us over the edge was the talks that we started putting on,” Jared Nutter, ’16 and vice president of SPS, said. “It was a way of showing everyone the magnitude of opportunities they have with this type of major.”

Nutter believes that the club is well on its way to another year of recognition for the current academic year. He attributes this to the massive amount of work that is occurring with the elementary schools and a major event in the fall when the club and many outside students attended an event at the observatory to watch the lunar eclipse and blood moon.

Logan Steiner, ’16 and the publicist for SPS, thought receiving this award was rewarding for him and the club.

“I am actually a part of this now,” said Steiner. “All the hard work you do, making all these posters and putting them up every where…it is cool to see that your hard work actually pays off.”

Molly Shelton, ’16 and president of SPS, is especially proud of SPS for going above and beyond what was asked and really trying to grow the interest in SPS and physics in general across campus.

“It’s really challenging to be in any extracurriculars when you have so many hard classes—as every student at Allegheny knows—but it’s the extra effort that they [the entire SPS club] have put in that has definitely been noticed,” Shelton said. “Really taking time out of their schedules to make sure that they help the underclassmen try to grow the physics department, that’s one of the biggest things that I think helped us.”

Poynor echoed these sentiments and said she was excited when she got the notification letter for the award in February. She also said the club is going to get a banner to display this large triumph.

“I feel like we’ve been doing really good things for a while and to finally be recognized at this level is pretty amazing and the fact that the students were able to do that makes me very proud,” Poynor said.

If you wish to learn more about the Society of Physics Students, you can attend the general meeting every Friday at 3:30 p.m. or attend an event on March 9, 2016.