SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — For the first time in a decade, the Wittenberg chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) has been recognized as an Outstanding SPS Chapter. In 2003-04, more than 700 SPS chapters were active across the country, and less than 10 percent were so honored.
Elizabeth George, associate professor of physics, department chair and Wittenberg SPS adviser, received notice of the honor from SPS Director Gary White in late December. According to the official communication from the national organization, “selection is based on the depth and breadth of SPS activities … in such areas as physics research, public science outreach, physics tutoring programs, hosting and representation at physics meetings and providing social interaction for chapter members.”
Aimed at helping students transform themselves into contributing members of the professional community, SPS supplements coursework by promoting skills needed to flourish professionally, including effective communication and personal interactions, leadership experience, personal networking, scholarly presentations at professional meetings and in journals and campus and community outreach.
Wittenberg SPS engaged in a variety of activities and academic pursuits during the 2003-04 school year that fulfilled the criteria. George said the highlight was the renovation of the Foucault Pendulum on display in the Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center. SPS members returned it to working order and redesigned the electrical circuit that drives the pendulum, which is a common display in prominent museums and science centers around the world and demonstrates that the earth is rotating. Wittenberg’s pendulum had fallen into disrepair and had not been operational for several years.
“The success of the last year was, in many ways, a product of student initiative,” said George, who added that Paul Voytas, associate professor of physics, deserves some of the credit as well for his commitment to Wittenberg SPS. “Students decided what they wanted to do, and they took the responsibility to make sure things happened. In many cases, the students involved went even farther than expected.”
Another noteworthy accomplishment for Wittenberg SPS was the chartering of the university’s first-ever chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honorary, in May 2004. Six student members, all members of Wittenberg SPS, were inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma at the first meeting, and they will set the future agenda for the honorary.
Other activities in the 2003-04 school year included a field trip to Columbus to see the play Copenhagen about a meeting between physicists Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, who were researching quantum mechanics and the development of nuclear weapons during World War II, a field trip to Kings Island with video cameras and accelerations sensors that helped members analyze roller coasters and led to a well-received presentation by SPS member Tim Hoagland, Wittenberg Class of 2004, to physics faculty and students, and a contribution to the “Science in the Movies” series that showed how science is used - or mis-used - in popular movies. The latter was organized by Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology Carol Ormand and Associate Professor of Biology Margaret Goodman.
In addition, three Wittenberg SPS members assisted with Girl Scout Science Night, a popular annual event that includes professors and students representing all science disciplines taught at Wittenberg, in April 2004. They gave demonstrations and helped with hands-on activities that gave Springfield-area youth the opportunity to experience science.
Rounding things out, Joe York, Wittenberg Class of 2005, received a summer internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology through the national SPS. York worked on microelectronics and using single molecules in electronic circuits.
“This award tells me that we had a pretty successful year in 2003-04,” George said. “We did a lot of activities that benefited SPS members and the community.
“Many of these activities have created opportunities for students to see how physics is used in every day life and see the relationship between physics and culture.”
Wittenberg SPS chapter officers for the 2003-04 school year were Hoagland and Landon Locke, Wittenberg Class of 2004, each president for half the year, York as vice president, Jennifer Warner, Wittenberg Class of 2004, treasurer and Locke as secretary.
Naturally, a new school year has brought new projects and activities for Wittenberg SPS, despite the fact that George and Voytas are both on sabbatical during the second semester. The biggest project is a new display in the new wing of the Science Center, including a model roller coaster with a circuit and mechanical pieces. In addition, a large group of physics students attended the campus production of the Broadway play Proof, which is about a mathematician and his daughter.
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