The 2008 United States Physics Team visited Washington DC on Wednesday, May 21. After individual morning sessions with legislators, the 24 students assembled in the Cannon House Office Building to meet the three physicists currently serving in Congress: Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ 12th), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI 3rd) and Bill Foster (D-IL 14th). Executive Officers Charles H. Holbrow of AAPT and H. Frederick Dylla of AIP presented the team.
Holt, Ehlers and Foster are strong advocates of federal funding for science programs. They noted that people with science backgrounds are scarce in government and urged the team members, all high school students, to take part in the political process.
“I do this because I’m a citizen,” Ehlers said, “even though sometimes I’d rather be in class or in the lab.”
Ehlers showed the page from the day’s Congressional Record with his official report of the team’s visit. The article lists the team members and celebrates their achievements.
The Physics Team gave each Congressman a table-top apparatus called Maxwell’s Wheel – a metal disc mounted on an axle suspended by strings. The disc winds itself up and down, demonstrating angular momentum, torque, and conservation of energy. A plaque on each piece commemorated the occasion.
The team had come from training camp by bus in the morning, along with coaches and AIP/AAPT staff members. On arrival they separated into groups to visit senators and representatives from their home areas.
One group visited Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts. Kerry shook hands enthusiastically with the six team members around the massive table in his office, congratulated them on their success and questioned them about the program.
“Go out and discover great things,” he told them. “We need new green energy sources and green building materials.”
Physics Team T-shirts and pocket mementos bearing the team members’ names were presented at the morning visits and during the meeting with Holt, Ehlers and Foster.
May 21, the day of the trip, was the date for introduction of H.R. 6104, the Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Act of 2008. Holt and Ehlers are among the co-sponsors to date. The bill was introduced jointly in both chambers by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA 15).
There were some waits during the trip, and also some light moments. While they waited for the three Congressmen, the students invented a table game with spinning quarters. During the session with Rep. Foster, when a team member spoke up for science funding, the congressman tossed a dollar from his own wallet into the air in a dramatic gesture.
The 24-member Physics Team is sponsored by the American Institute of Physics and its 10 member societies: AAPT, organizer of the program; Acoustical Society of America; American Association of Physicists in Medicine; American Astronomical Society; American Crystallographic Association; American Geophysical Union; American Physical Society; AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing; Optical Society of America; and Society of Rheology.
The selection process for the team began in January. High school teachers throughout the U.S. nominated their best students to compete in the first of three rounds of exams -- the quarterfinals. Some 200 of the highest scorers in that exam advanced to the second round – the semifinals. The 24 U.S. Team members were chosen from this group; the choice was based on semifinal exam scores plus grade transcripts and recommendations.
From May 17 – 27 the 2008 team trained on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. In addition to classes, labs, and exams, they heard presentations by UMD faculty members, including Nobelist William Phillips, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Fellow and a member of the university’s Physics Department; UMD Dean of Public Policy Steve Fetter; Richard Berg, Director of the Physics Lecture-Demonstration Facility; and particle astrophysicist Jordan Goodman, former Physics Department Chair.
At the end of the training camp, five of the US Physics Team members will be named to the IPhO Traveling Team. An alternate will also be named. After a Mini-Training Camp in July at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, the five will go on to Hanoi, Vietnam, to compete in the 39th International Physics Olympiad July 20 – 29.
Winners in the 2008 AAPT/APS Special Awards competition in Physics and Astronomy at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) were announced May 15 during a ceremony at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Winners and their topics were:
First Award: $1,200
Michael Anthony Batista, 18, of Melbourne Central Catholic High School, Melbourne, Florida, for “A Study of Chaotic Behavior Utilizing the Non-Ohmic Properties of the P-N Junction”
Second Award: $800
Lyric Elizabeth Gillett, 16, of Cornerstone High Homeschool, Houston, Texas, for “Intensity and Temperature Variance in Sonoluminescence”
Third Award: $500
Te Hsin Tsui, 18, of National Hsinchu Girls' Senior High School, Hsinchu, Taiwan, Chinese Taipei, for “Dancing Water Droplets”
Honorable Mention recipients were:
Yale Wang Fan, 16, of The Catlin Gabel School, Portland,Oregon, for
“A Quantum Computational Approach to the Atomic Many-Body Problem”
Anne Yuri Polyakov, 18, of Ward Melville High School, East Setauket, New York, for “SQIF Setup for Measurements of Extremely Low Absolute Magnetic Fields”
Nilesh Tripuraneni, 17, ofClovis West High School,Fresno, California, for “Novel Characterizations of the Static and Kinetic Behavior of Liquid Marbles:A Potential Utility in Digital Microfluidics?”
Winners also received certificates, journal subscriptions and membership in the two societies.
A feature of the AAPT/APS awards is that sponsoring teachers, as well as their students, are named and recognized. Teachers of this year’s winners are: Antonyette Nichole Giam (Batista); Melody Canellis Gillett (Gillett); Chu-Yuan Lin (Tsui); Marek Andrzej Perkowski (Fan); Vasili Semenov (Polyakov); and Wayne Garabedian (Tripuraneni).
Another feature of the 2008 fair was the participation of AAPT President Lila Adair (second from left) in the judging. Adair chaired a team of Special Awards judges from educational institutions in Georgia.
Some 1300 judges serve as volunteers at ISEF. Every judge must have a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree and/or six years of relevant experience. Judges are expected to be actively engaged in the fields they judge, and to be interested in the careers and educational development of young people.
ISEF is the only international science project competition for students in grades 9 through 12. Students qualify to compete by participating in school, local, regional and/or state science fairs.
The fair is held in a different city each May. Major sponsors include Intel and Agilent Technologies. Special Awards are underwritten by AAPT, APS and other scientific, professional, governmental, industrial and educational organizations. Since ISEF was founded in 1950 it has been administered by the Society for Science & the Public (formerly Science Service).
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University (Boone, NC) presented Outstanding Teacher Awards to three exceptional area teachers on May 6, National Teacher Day.
Kasi Dishman, physics teacher at Johnson County High School in Mountain City, TN, was recognized for her success in exposing ever larger numbers of students to rigorous science courses, especially physics. In the past year the number of students enrolled in physics in Johnson County has more than doubled. Physics and Astronomy Department Chair Dr. Anthony G. Calamai presented Dishman with her award certificate. He commended her efforts in promoting active-engagement teaching methods at her school.
“Turning classrooms into collaborative learning environments helps students to understand physics better and teaches them lifelong learning skills,” Dishman says.
Rebecca Stamilio is an instructor of physics, electronics, and engineering at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro, NC. Calamai praised her active-engagement teaching methods, which include physics demonstrations, classroom discussions and other activities in addition to lecture. Stamilio uses a studio approach to physics teaching: immediately after learning a new concept, students are able to apply it in a classroom or laboratory activity.
“If you show students how physics relates to their everyday lives, they will be more engaged, they will understand concepts better, and they will tell their friends and family about the ‘cool thing’ they learned or did in physics class,” she says.
Dr. Joseph Pollock is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University, where he teaches undergraduates. Calamai described him as “a very demanding teacher who consistently receives among the best teaching evaluations in the Department. Pollock is also a recent recipient of ASU’s Harvey R. Durham Outstanding Freshman Advocate award.
“I’ve been teaching at Appalachian for 25 years and have seen the students and the technology change a great deal,” he says, “yet continuing to create an effective (and enjoyable) learning environment in my classroom has remained very rewarding for me.”
Kacergis teaches Honors Physics, which includes mechanics, waves (light and sound) and electromagnetism. The course emphasizes conceptual understanding of the physical world and the application of mathematics to describe it. Chesick visited the class and sent an enthusiastic report.
Chesick, a long-time physics teacher at the neighboring Baldwin School, said Kacergis is a dynamic person and an excellent teacher. Adding a human touch, she notes that Kacergis has a large family.
“I don’t know how she does it. She has my complete admiration,” Chesick said.