December 2023: Allison McGraw
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
- Member since 2023
- Physics Lab Center Manager
- College Station, TX
As I gazed up at the night sky in my father's backyard, a few years after high school, I was struck by the profound expanse of the universe and my burning curiosity to delve deeper into its mysteries. Managing a local skateboard shop in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona had momentarily delayed my college education, but the desire to explore the unknown and contribute to the understanding of the universe ignited within me like a meteor striking my path. My astrophysics trajectory commenced with courses in college algebra and introductory physics, driven by a profound love for astronomy, geology, and rocks incoming from space. Despite encountering challenges, I persevered with the support of office hours, tutoring, and revisions. Joining the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium marked a pivotal moment, where I conducted interactive planetarium shows and Solar System tours, making complex scientific concepts accessible to audiences of all ages, and also began teaching with hands-on demos through our Physics Discovery program.
Subsequently, my scientific journey led me to Kitt Peak National Observatory, where I operated telescopes and guided astronomy tours. I also took on outreach leadership roles, including the Steward Observatory Undergraduate Astronomy Club. I conducted private star tours in remote Arizona locations throughout undergraduate and graduate school. Throughout graduate school, I spearheaded The Art of Planetary Science, using Data Art to bridge the gap between scientists and the public. My thesis research focused on infrared spectroscopy of meteorites and asteroids, culminating in the creation of planetarium show content and interactive public talks such as having attendees smash asteroids to explore material strengths and asteroid properties. Having completed my Ph.D. in Planetary Science, I now serve as the Laboratory Manager for the Physics Lab Center (PLC) at Texas A&M University in the Physics & Astronomy Department. In this role, I oversee a resource teaching lab that maintains and operates nearly 300 physics and astronomy demonstrations. I oversee teaching in undergraduate laboratory courses and equipment as well as outreach components beyond the classroom for visiting K-12 students as well as an educational YouTube channel.
Upon my arrival at Texas A&M, colleagues recommended that I become a member of AAPT, an association I had heard of but had not yet engaged with. I joined and attended the Summer 2023 meeting in Sacramento, California, just one month into my new career role. As an early career professional, this meeting proved invaluable in providing the resources necessary for my role as a lab manager. I participated in the PIRA workshop, delving into the intricacies of coding demos for universal teaching purposes. This workshop inspired me to launch a program called 'A Demo A Day' in my lab, where students and I set up a new demo every weekday to keep our extensive collection up to date. I connected with other lab managers facing similar challenges, forging strong camaraderie. I even acquired a large Quantum Levitation table at an exceptional price during the conference! Additionally, I spent valuable time with PASCO, a major source of lab equipment for my department, and engaged in informative pre-conference workshops. I also had the privilege of visiting PASCO behind the scenes and personally meeting the CEO.
Looking ahead, I eagerly anticipate presenting at the Winter 2024 meeting in New Orleans, LA, to share the enduring value of our resource lab for teaching. Lastly, my favorite thing about teaching physics is exploring the profound scale of the universe; from dancing subatomic particles, to asteroids full of microcrystalline minerals and planetary-sized materials, all the way to colossal black holes in the macro-sized observable universe that we happen to occupy during the current spacetime continuum.