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Minutes of Physics TheoryNet Meeting, 1/23/10

Physics Theorynet meeting, January 23, 2010 
Room 218 DA, Northeastern University, Boston 

Minutes/Action items: 


Participating Teachers/Theorists: 
Rick Dower, Roxbury Latin School 
Jesus Hernandez, Lawrence H.S. 
John Janetti, Andover H.S.
Michael Hirsh, Needham H.S. 
Chris Siren, Groton-Dunstable Regional H.S. 
Mike Wadness, Medford H.S. 
Brent Nelson, Northeastern 
Matthew Headrick, Brandeis
Brandon Murakami, Rhode Island College 
Albion Lawrence, Brandeis 
Scott Goelzer, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy 
Nick Nicastro, Wachusett Regional H.S. 
Farhad Riahi, Commonwealth School of Boston


Ann Kaiser, La Salle Academy, Providence 
Nancy Najmi, Reading Memorial H.S. 
Noreen Scarpitto, Reading Memorial H.S. 
Allan Adams, MIT 
Xi Han, Harvard
Per Berglund, University of New Hampshire 
Jose Juan Blanco-Pillado, Tufts 
Ken Olum, Tufts 
Tomasz Taylor, Northeastern 

1.  High-school visits: summer/fall 2009: 

We had a busy fall with several visits from theorists to high schools, including some pairings in locations that are new to our program. Allan Adams visited Chris Siren at Groton-Dunstable regional HS and discussed the nature of being a theoretical physicist, emphasizing the importance of presenting your work to others and traveling. He entertained the students with discussions of quantum mechanics and the physics of black holes, among other topics. Matt Headrick visited both Nancy Najmi and Noreen Scarpitto at Reading Memorial HS. His discussion centered on the curvature of space and concepts in general relativity, ultimately motivating a discussion on time travel. In speaking about the nature of being a physicist he made sure to emphasize the importance of collaboration among theorists (and among scientists generally) -- countering the often-held view that scientists tend to be solitary investigators. 

Brandon Murakami continued his connection with Ann Kaiser at La Salle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island. In his previous meeting his presentation focused on biographical aspects of being a professional physicist. In this meeting he led a discussion on the topic ``Why We Built the LHC", focusing on the search for the Higgs and other new particles.  Other returning pairings included Albion Lawrence with Rick Dower's class at Roxbury Latin and Brent Nelson with Michael Hirsch's classes at Needham High School.

Jose Juan Blanco-Pillado was able to attend Mike Wadness's class at Medford HS where he described the history of cosmology in a grand arc from Hubble to dark matter and dark energy. Xi Han also made his first visit to Jesus Hernandez's class at Lawrence HS where he divided his time roughly equally between aspects of his personal biography and the role that energy and momentum conservation play in our thinking of modern physics.

Finally we would like to welcome our newest participants from Vermont: Noah Graham at Middlebury College and Scott Pennington at Essex HS. The two were put in contact by Ken Olum, and Noah visited Essex HS in October where he discussed the general theory of relativity to approximately 30 students. Our continued expansion in numbers and geography is encouraging -- more discussion follows in item 3 below.

2. Equipment

A quick run-down of the equipment associated with the TheoryNet program: the dry ice-based cloud chamber is currently with Mike Wadness while Scott Goelzer has the Helmholtz coil apparatus. Farhad Riahi picked up the electron diffraction equipment, which will be transfered to Jesus Hernandez next. Mike confirmed that the low-cost Milikan oil drop apparatus we were given to test-drive was flawed, so the consensus seems to be that we ought to purchase the $2600 Milikan apparatus from PASCO. Other suggestions for demonstration equipment include purchasing one or more Crookes tubes and/or a photoelectric effect demonstration set. There was a great deal of interest in using the electron diffraction gear (and a quick demonstration of the equipment was performed immediately following the meeting) -- so much so that it was suggested we consider purchasing another one. The Video Flex 7600 Projection Microscope, which allows objects viewed through a microscope to be projected onto a movie screen via a computer or laptop, is at Northeastern and is available to anyone who wishes to borrow it. It will eventually be part of the Milikan apparatus we hope to purchase.

3. Advertising/Growth/Expansion

Our presence in Rhode Island is now nearing a full year, and this semester saw the first pairing in Vermont. We are hopeful that a visit can be made by Philip Mannheim from the University of Connecticut to Gary Bent at Mansfield HS in Connecticut. This brings five out of the six states in New England into the TheoryNet family. Our more distant participants may find attending meetings in Boston a bit difficult and the topic was mooted of perhaps having regional meetings if the group size were to continue to expand. A number of new theory faculty hires in the Boston area have been made in the last two years and we currently find ourselves in the (happy) predicament of having more high school instructors than faculty to pair them with. This is mostly an artifact of several of a more regular participants being away on leave or sabbatical so we hope to be back to full strength by the fall.

Prompted by a recent "gender equity in physics" workshop held at Northeastern, the issue of recruiting more female representatives was raised. The number of candidates we can approach is not great, but could be perhaps augmented if the group expanded to include other areas of theoretical physics. Of these, the branch most closely allied with high energy/particle and string physics would be astrophysics and cosmology. Traditionally this is a branch of physics with a larger proportion of female faculty. Looking down the road at potential continued expansion it was suggested by several members that there may be postdoctoral fellows at campuses in the area that might be willing to participate if the TheoryNet program is allowed to recruit such individuals (and if adequate compensation of some form was available).

Finally one of our traditional avenues for advertising has been presentations at local gatherings such as the APS/AAPT meeting that was most recently held in New Hampshire. It was suggested that it might be helpful if a standing presentation in PowerPoint format was prepared that could be given by any member of the group. Such a 10-15 minute presentation could be adapted from those many of have given in the past and occasionally updated as needed. We could make this available for download on our webpage -- the idea being that any one of us could become an instant ambassador for the program at various functions around the New England area.

4. New and/or revised pairings

Going into the spring semester Brent will replace Tom in the pairing with Nick Nicastro at Wachusett Regional HS. The hope is that Ken Olum from Tufts will be available to visit Jesus Hernandez at Lawrence HS and (if possible) our newest member, John Janetti at nearby Andover HS. Brent is available as a backup visitor if the scheduling does not work out.

5. Next meeting

Our next meeting is (tentatively) scheduled for May 15, 2010, with an alternate date of May 22.

Brent Nelson
Department of Physics
Northeastern University
110 Forsyth Street
111 Dana Research Center
Boston, MA 02115