[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Minutes of TheoryNet Meeting, June 2

Physics Theorynet meeting, June 2, 2012
Room 218 DA, Northeastern University, Boston



Brent Nelson, Northeastern University
Brandon Murakami, Rhode Island College
Mike Wadness, Medford H.S.
Timothy Stamnitz, Monadnock High School, NH
Tasneem Zahra Husain
Noreen Scarpitto, Reading Memorial H.S.
Nancy Najmi, Reading Memorial H.S.
Rick Dower, Roxbury Latin School
Scott Goelzer, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, NH
Don Fries, Community School, Tamworth, NH
Chris Siren, Groton-Dunstable Regional H.S.
Nick Nicastro, Wachusett Regional H.S.
Michael Hirsh, Needham H.S.
Richard Levergood, Londonderry High School, NH
John Samperisi, Monadnock High School, NH


Lara Anderson, Harvard University
Per Berglund, University of New Hampshire
Matthew Headrick, Brandeis University
Ken Olum, Tufts University
Tomasz Taylor, Northeastern University
John Janetti, Andover H.S.
Ann Kaiser, La Salle Academy
Nivedi Das, Sharon H.S.
Albion Lawrence, Brandeis University
Jesse Thaler, MIT
Jose Juan Blanco-Pillado, Tufts University
Xi Yin, Harvard

A. Introductions
We welcomed John Samperisi, who will be replacing 
Timothy Stamnitz at Monadnock High School in New Hampshire. John is a science teacher on his second career from industry who has taught physics, astronomy, forensic science and physical science for ten years at MRHS.

B. Spring 2011 school visits

1) Brandon Murakami informed us that Marcus Spradlin and Anastasia Volovich from Brown University are interested in participating, but will be away at CERN this coming semester. We hope to hear from them when they return to the area. Additionally, Ann Kaiser will be away for the next six to nine months serving as a Fullbright Fellow in Singapore. The program was something that Brandon had brought to Ann's attention -- in that sense it represents another way in which the TheoryNet program benefits instructors.

2) Tasneem visited Needham HS where she spoke to the juniors in 20th Century Physics for 45 minutes on the connection between particle physics and string theory. In describing string theory Tasneem described Kaluza-Klein theory and suggested ways of visualizing extra dimensions -- starting with a game of 4D tic-tac-toe, which the students enjoyed. She received many good questions from the students. In addition, Jesse Thaler visited where he gave a more question & answer style presentation in which the students were given free range to ask about anything on their mind. Jesse fielded questions on faster-than-light travel, teleportation and entanglement theory, in addition to the standard questions about particle physics. His mid-May visit included two 20 Century Physics sections.

3) Mike Wadness has not yet had a visit this semester, but he expects Jose Juan to come in the next two weeks.

4) Don Fries twice brought his students down to the University of New Hampshire to hear Per Berglund give a colloquium, most recently on the data which suggests an accelerating universe.

5) Matthew Headrick went to Groton-Dunstable on May 1 where he spoke to a mixture  of honors and AP students, both juniors and seniors. His presentation touched on the life of a scientist, the research process and an overview of string theory with some discussion of supersymmetry.

6) Lara Anderson came in the fall to the AP and honors courses of physics at Reading HS, with many beginning physics students in attendance as well -- four presentations in all. By all accounts she had a great presentation, involving an overview of string theory that was made slightly simpler for the beginning students. The students were greatly impressed with the presentation style and the demeanor of the speaker, and were said to feel honored to have had her come to speak them.

7) Ken Olum came to visit Tim Stamnitz in New Hampshire in January, speaking to a combined class of 35 to 40 students. The presentation was on aspects of special and general relativity such as the twin paradox and his attempts to conclusively disprove the possibility of time travel into the past. 

8) Rick Dower at Roxbury Latin had visits from both Xi Yin and Tasneem Zahra Husain. Xi focused mostly on cosmology, remarking on how observations are effectively 'looking into the past' and discussing the dark sectors of the cosmos, particularly that which causes the acceleration of the cosmic acceleration. Tasneem gave a description of string theory and particle physics. Rick shared some of the student responses to the visit with us. Apparently the students were enthralled with Tasneem: they found her easy to understand and her slides well prepared. They thought her presentation on how to think about 4D and 6D was fascinating, and really responded to the game of 4D tic-tac-toe. Most importantly, Tasneem dispelled many common myths about scientists. Among other things her hair was not disheveled, she is young and clearly intelligent, she has a passion for science, and (apparently) her shoes match the color of her laptop! The students were also really impressed with Xi -- finding it inspirational to see so young a person who is a professor at Harvard whom all the students could relate to. 

9) Per Berglund came to visit Scott Goelzer's classroom the day before the TheoryNet meeting. Some seniors who had graduated actually returned specifically to be present at the talk. In the fall Per had visited and spoke about the expanding universe. In this visit the topics was again cosmology, which fit well given that the class had just finished studying basic general and special relativity. Per discussed dark matter and dark energy with a perspective from string theory. As Scott related it, some of the material was clearly over the heads of some of the students, but this has its own strangely effective ability to motivate certain students!

10) Tom Taylor traveled to Londonderry to visit the classrooms of Richard Levergood at Londonderry High School. Tom visited three hours level classes, discussing a mix of topics in high energy theory (the Standard Model, cosmology, the Big Bang, inflation theory, etc). While the talk ranged from elementary particle theory to black holes and the LHC, all agreed that the elements were tied together masterfully and the whole edifice was apparent to the students.

11) Tom also visited Nick Nicastro's classrooms at Wachusett Regional H.S. in March, where he spoke to the honors physics class and a collection of students from other classes. The audience also included three other faculty members -- and even the principle (for a few minutes, anyway). The ninety minute talk was similar to what was described above, but with much time allotted to questions from the students.

C. Getting Students to Wonder More

In discussing the mission of the TheoryNet program we began to consider a comment from our newest member, John Samperisi. He noted that in his experience teaching young science students one of the things he notices most is the lack of wonder on the part of his students. Many members around the table nodded agreement. Put simply, the question is how to get students to (a) be eager and motivated to learn about a puzzling phenomenon and (b) fully imbibe the depth of fundamental topics in physical science. Many villains were identified: YouTube (which promotes a passive attitude towards 'experimentation'), the internet (which makes it seem as if everything is already known), and current science curricula (which tends to emphasize test taking as opposed to the scientific method). The basic concern was that students are not sufficiently interested in the 'bigger picture' of science, but more focused on the immediate question of how to solve the homework and prepare for the exams. It was, however, pointed out that in fact this is nothing new and such complaints were made long before the internet era. Nevertheless, it has been noted that 'wonderment', for lack of a better term, tends to dissipate from its peak at middle-school ages for reasons that are not clear. We all hope that the TheoryNet program helps to inject a bit of the 'wow' factor that helps rekindle some of the wonderment that we all remember from our own science education.

D. Equipment

All equipment stayed at its current location. It was decided that the fall meeting would be an appropriate time to have instructors request equipment. Those who have items are encouraged to bring them to Northeastern this fall to make transferral easier. Mike Wadness has the electron diffraction and dry ice cloud chamber. Scott Goelzer has the Helmholtz coils. Richard Levergood has the Millikan experiment. So the question is, who has the non-dry-ice cloud chamber? Please email me at b nelson neu edu if you have that particular piece of equipment.

E. Another Plea for Data

The renewal for the NSF grant which funds TheoryNet will be submitted this coming fall. In preparation for the submission we are seeking data on the effectiveness of the TheoryNet program on young people in the Boston area. At the winter meeting we received questionnaire results from Rick Levergood, Mike Wadness and Chris Siren. At this meeting Rick Dower kindly sent us student responses to the visits of Xi Yin and Tasneem Zahra. We wish to thank everyone for collecting this information and sending it our way. It will definitely augment our next NSF grant proposal. This coming fall we would ask high school instructors to consider ways in which student responses can be obtained in their classrooms for fall visits. We are also interested in any data about how equipment associated with the TheoryNet program was utilized.

F. Next meeting

Our next meeting will be September 8, where pairing for the fall semester will be determined. See you all there.

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