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Minutes of TheoryNet Meeting: May 14, 2011

Physics Theorynet meeting, May 14, 2011


Room 218 DA, Northeastern University, Boston








Rick Dower, Roxbury Latin School

Mike Wadness, Medford H.S.

Brent Nelson, Northeastern University

Michael Hirsh, Needham H.S.

Timothy Stamnitz, Merrimack Valley High School

Nick Nicastro, Wachusett Regional H.S.

John Janetti, Andover H.S.

Brandon Murakami, Rhode Island College

Ken Olum, Tufts University

Don Fries, Community School, Tamworth, NH

Scott Goelzer, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy

Chris Siren, Groton-Dunstable Regional H.S.





Nancy Najmi, Reading Memorial H.S.

Noreen Scarpitto, Reading Memorial H.S.

Ann Kaiser, La Salle Academy

Nivedi Das, Sharon H.S.

Tomasz Taylor, Northeastern University

Matthew Headrick, Brandeis University

Albion Lawrence, Brandeis University

Jesse Thaler, MIT

Allan Adams, MIT

Matthew Schwartz, Harvard

Xi Yin, Harvard

Jose Juan Blanco-Pillado, Tufts University

Per Berglund, University of New Hampshire


A. Summary of School Visits


1  Needham HS (Mike H.) - Jesse Thaler


Jesse visited both the introductory physics students as well as the students in 20th Century Physics. In the former case the discussion was centered around Q&A with the students asking questions which they had been collecting over the previous weeks. One of the more popular topics was the possibility of faster-than-light communication. As a visual aid Jesse brought the (large version) Particle Data Book to symbolize the collected knowledge of physicists about the universe. By comparison, the whole of chemistry can be summarized in a single page of that book.


2  Wachusett Regional HS (Nick)  - Brent Nelson


Brent visited WRHS for the second time in April, attending the 90 minute long period made up mostly of juniors and seniors. The topics were LHC physics, dark matter experiments, and a small amount of string theory.


3  Sharon HS (Nivedi) - Ken Olum


Ken visited the honors physics course in May, having visited the AP students in the fall. In both cases the topic was the possibility of time travel. Ken noted that the juniors tended to be the ones that asked the most questions, perhaps because these students were still evaluating possible college majors. There may be a second follow-up visit to just the juniors in a couple of weeks as the semester winds down.


4  Groton-Dunstable Regional H.S. (Chris) - Tom Taylor


Tom visited the honors classes in the fall, but there was no visit yet in the spring.


5  Andover HS (John) - Sean Hartnoll


Sean visited two classes just before the February break. Topics included relativity, particularly his own research in holography and its applications in physics. He also discussed the life of physicists, contrasting the pros/cons of a job in a field like finance with the work-life balance of a position in academia.


6  Medford HS (Mike W.) - Jose Juan Blanco-Pillado


A possible meeting is scheduled for later in the month.


7  Roxbury Latin HS (Rick) - Xi Yin


Xi visited for the whole day, his second visit to Roxbury Latin this year. He attended three sections of sophomores and one of senior students. This was all the more impressive given that he had just recently finished the Boston marathon. He discussed string theory and the concept of the multiverse, as well as describing the life of a physicist. The students were asked to give their reflections on the visit afterward. Among the comments were a general appreciation of Xi's ability to communicate ideas easily and his enthusiasm for what he studies.


8  Coe-Brown Northwood Academy (Scott) - Per Berglund


Per visited the honors students in the fall, focusing on his research in cosmology and early universe physics.


9  Merrimack Valley HS (Tim) - Brent Nelson


Brent addressed a joint class of physics and chemistry students for a little over an hour on topics of LHC phenomena and its connection to dark matter. In particular he tried to describe how physicists look for something that is essentially invisible, using energy and momentum conservation as a guide.


10 La Salle Academy (Ann) - Brandon Murakami


Brandon visited La Salle Academy and spoke on the career path that a physicist (or scientist more generally) would travel from undergraduate education to eventual faculty job. The talk was entitled "Making a Living on Nerd Power", with "nerd" being defined as any skilled and talented individual. One particular aspect of the talk involved getting students to visualize concretely what "doing research" is like by calling up advertisements for REUs (NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates) on laptops for universities around the country. After describing what an REU is he went on to discuss how they can be fun environments to learn about doing science with "normal" people (presumably other nerds!) and getting paid on top of it!


11 Reading Memorial HS (Nancy/Noreen) - Matthew Headrick


The visit is scheduled for some time in June.



B.  Expansion, Recruitment and Changes for 2011-2012:


We thank Sean Hartnoll for his participation for 2010-2011 and wish him well in his new faculty position on the west coast. We hope to welcome two new faculty members from Brown for 2011-2012, which motivates expanding the pool of high-schools we work with in the Providence area and Rhode Island more generally. We've expanded sufficiently in New Hampshire that it makes sense to look for additional faculty at UNH and/or Dartmouth who we can recruit. Some names were suggested which we will work on for the 2011-2012 academic year.


C. Equipment Roundup


A partial round-up of the TheoryNet equipment is as follows:


1. Millikan oil drop experiment


Scott built brand new equipment boxes for this experiment as well as the Helmholtz coils. They look great! He had a student devote some time to learning how to work the oil drop experiment. In his words: "It works great, but it's fussy." So do not expect to set it up shortly before a planned demonstration -- some advanced prep time is certainly called for. Thus, once it's operational it makes sense to get as much use out of it as possible! The device (and the projection camera that goes with it) are in my office at Northeastern, so contact b nelson neu edu if you wish to borrow it. Reading HS has put in a request to borrow it and has first rights at the moment...


2. Helmholtz coils (e/m experiment)


Scott also built a box for this apparatus, and it is currently in the custody of Mike H. This devise is extremely versatile and largely fool-proof.For this and the following items, if there is interest in obtaining them please contact the current custodian and/or b nelson neu edu


3. Electron diffraction -- Mike Wadness

4. Cloud chamber (dry ice) -- Mike Wadness

5. Cloud chamber (no dry ice) -- Nivedi Das


D. New/Old Business


Development of a TheoryNet website is six months away -- and likely always will be! Thanks for sending pictures and other materials. There is some hope that this summer will allow some time for web development. Having some kind of equipment tracking/request system would certainly help.


There was a discussion about someday (soon?) trying to develop a diagnostic tool for determining how effective the TheoryNet program is at changing students' perception of scientists and, more importantly, influence their future decision making as to college course enrollment and major selection. It was noted that perceptions about science tend to harden somewhere between middle school and high school, so it may even make sense to think about visiting middle schools somewhere in the future.


E. 2011-2012 Pairings


It was decided to tentatively keep all pairings for 2010-2011 the same for 2011-2012. There are a few necessary exceptions: we will need to find a replacement for Sean at Andover HS. In addition Brent was covering Wachusett Regional HS for the last two years, and also covered Merrimack Valley HS in NH last semester. This September he will be dealing with newborn twins, so he will likely be AWOL for at least the fall semester if not the whole academic year. That means we have three or four slots that need attention for 2011-2012 -- we hope that some of our faculty returning from sabbaticals will be able to help out. Fall pairings can be finalized at our next meeting.


F. Next meeting and stipends


We decided upon September 17, 2011 for our fall meeting. Note that due to Tom's absence (and additional technical issues involving our grant management office) stipends/reimbursements will be processed in late June/early July.

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