University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy


Society of Physics Students

Blake Rowedder
Blake Rowedder of the Society of Physics Students
Alex Schumann

A darkened room, spooky music, lots of colorful lights, and hundreds of excited elementary school age children, may sound like the setting for a Halloween party, but it was the home of dozens of hands-on physics displays in the Mystery Science room at the Math and Science Family fun fair, held annually at Coffman Union. One more element made the experience exciting and interesting for kids of all ages: the presence of the Society of Physics Students (SPS.) SPS members were on hand to walk the public through the demonstrations.

SPS member Mike Sullivan, who operated an air bazooka, said that the event was a nice way to give back to the community and that it was fun to explain the experiments to the hundreds of school-age kids who came through the room. Among the demonstrations performed were fun presentations of fiber optics, elastic collisions, persistence of vision and electromagnetic currents.
SPS Membership coordinator, Jimmy Chen was pleased with the success of the Mystery Science room which combined store-bought hands on demonstrations with some more educational demonstrations from the School of Physics and Astronomy demonstration collection, some of which had a twist added for the event. Children learned about elastic collisions when two toy cars were crashed into each other inside a small tunnel. The way the demonstration was set up it looked like the cars changed color and the kids were encouraged to say whether they thought it was magic or physics that caused the change.
Karley Weir, SPS activities director, was one of the seven new officers on hand at the event. In addition to outreach events such as the Fun Fair, Weir helps coordinate monthly social events such as movie nights, cookouts and pizza parties. The group makes a yearly trip to a national physics laboratory. They are planning to visit Argonne National Laboratory, outside Chicago.
SPS Vice President Charles Brown said that their organization has doubled in the last year and now more than half of all physics students are members. “We have a great room in the basement of Tate Lab with study space, computers and couches.” Brown says one of the principal attractions is networking. The group also organizes a “Meet the Professors” series where the group invites a faculty member to give an informal presentation to students about their research and the ups and downs of becoming a physicist. The evenings also give faculty and students a chance to get to know each other better.
In addition to the social benefits of joining SPS, Chen says there are benefits to being part of the larger national SPS organization, which is a well-recognized academic club providing students with access to periodicals and journals such as Physics Today and Phys Rev B.
“We’re lucky to have a broad range of physics majors in our group. If a student comes in to our lounge struggling with a physics problem, chances are there is going to be someone around who has had that class and knows about that area of physics.” Brown said that the group has a collection of GRE study materials and is also planning to hold a GRE prep session in the upcoming year.