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Minutes TheoryNet Meeting January 23, 2016

Physics Theorynet Meeting, January 23, 2016

Room 218 Dana Building, Northeastern University




Rick Dower, Roxbury Latin School (for R. Moore)

Jim Halverson, Northeastern University

Matthew Headrick, Brandeis University

Nick Nicastro, Wachusett Regional HS

Russell Sears, Cohasset H.S.

Ken Olum, Tufts University

Brent Nelson, Northeastern University

Mike Wadness, Medford HS


Nivedi Das, Sharon H.S.

Michael Hirsh, Needham H.S.

Nancy Najmi, Reading Memorial HS

Elaine Picard, Concord-Carlisle H.S.

Chris Siren, Groton-Dunstable Regional HS

Tomasz Taylor, Northeastern University

Richard Levergood, Londonderry HS

Scott Goelzer, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy

Per Berglund, University of New Hampshire

Jesse Thaler, MIT

Daniel Jafferis, Harvard University

Matt Reece, Harvard University

Phiala Shanahan, MIT

Jiji Fan, Brown University

George Odell, North Andover H.S.

A. School Visits.

It should be noted that the meeting coincided with a rather short but serious snow storm, so some of our further afield colleagues may have had difficulty attending. After a brief round of introductions we went around the room describing the theorist/instructor interactions that have taken place thus far. In some cases, neither representative of a pairing was present to discuss any interaction. Theses cases were the following:

Nivedi Das -- Jiji Fan

Nancy Najmi -- Phiala Shanahan

Elaine Picard -- Jesse Thaler

Scott Goelzer -- Per Berglund

For other cases one or more members of the pair were at the meeting.

1) Mike Hirsh -- Jim Halverson: Spoke to two AP classes back-to-back, in part regarding how physics and math interact. The main topic was Puzzles of the Standard Model.

2) Nick Nicastro — Tom Taylor: Tom visited in the fall, visiting a class of about 20 seniors with the topic being primarily string theory. Nick had the students fill out a questionnaire regarding the visit. The 15 questions were quite detailed and there was a section for free response. The student responses were summarized and distributed to the group. Overall the students were very pleased with the visit and found it a level they could understand. Tom will be returning in the spring.

3) Russel Sears — Tom Taylor: Tom last visited in spring 2015. Another visit is planned for this semester.

4) Michael Wadness — Daniel Jafferis: A visit is scheduled for the first week in February.

5) Richard Levergood — Ken Olum: No visit as of yet. However, Ken has visited George Odell at North Andover H.S. The students there have formed a “Cosmos Club” dedicated to topics in cosmology, and Ken addressed their meeting. The club mostly involves visits to labs, observatories, and other field trips. The students had a number of very good questions.

6) Rick Dower -- Matt Headrick: No visit as of yet.

7) Chris Siren -- Brent Nelson: No visit as of yet.

B. Recruitment and Contact Info

We have had a number of people join the Theorynet program, but not everyone has visited the website to sign up for mailings. This includes some of our new theorist participants (e.g. Jiji Fan, Phiala Shanahan) as well as some high school instructors (e.g. George Odell). If you are in contact with someone who is not receiving the emails (including these minutes!), please have them email me (b nelson neu edu), or better yet, have them visit the TheoryNet webpage and create a login to subscribe to the mailing list. The URL is below:


It was suggested that we continue to contact new hires in the area with information on how to participate.

C. Record-keeping

When writing the "outcomes" report for the last NSF grant period, we realized that our estimate of 5,000 students reached over 3 years was based on verbal records. We will therefore ask high school instructors to send a message to Tom (t taylor neu edu) or Brent with the date of the visit and the number of students participating. The latter can be a best-guess estimate, no sign in sheet or other documentation is likely needed at this time (though we will happily accept them if you have one).

As everyone is busy, and emails can often be overlooked, Tom and I are willing to send reminders just before or just after a classroom visit to prompt instructors to send this information. But to do this, we would need to know the dates of planned visits! So it was suggested that when faculty/instructors agree on a class visit date, this information be sent to Tom and I. This way two people are responsible, and the information will inform the agenda for any upcoming meeting. It will also allows us to be more pro-active in record keeping. This information will be sent via separate email to instructors to reinforce the suggestion.

D. Media materials

The topic of pre-screened media materials (YouTube clips, book passages, articles, website, etc.) that can be used in conjunction with classroom visits, was discussed. This has been suggested in the past, but no action has been taken thus far. The idea would be to have faculty look at materials that are in the public domain and indicate (a) their general level of correctness, (b) their suitability for use prior to, or just after, a faculty visit, and (c) perhaps even suggest comprehension questions that can be used to reinforce the media and prompt interaction during the visit. 

This clearly involves an investment in time, which most of the faculty present were willing to do. But most faculty are not very well aware of just what sorts of materials are out there. It was suggested that if these things could be collected in a central spot (say a Google Doc?) then faculty can check in from time to time and pick items to look at and comment upon. Nick Nicastro and Rick Dower agreed to coordinate any efforts. You may email Rick directly with suggestions at rickdower gmail com.

E. Equipment

In order to keep track and simplify transferring demo equipment, Jim Halverson created a self-explanatory google doc spreadsheet:


Please fill in your present equipment. If you have any comments about the doc, please contact Jim directly. In particular, please do indicate if anything is malfunctioning with the equipment. For example, the electron diffraction experiment likely needs a new power source, though it maybe just a blown fuse. This is currently in Brent’s office awaiting a more competent individual to investigate. Ken agreed to try out the new Cavendish experiment and reports that he was able to get it to work (though it needs a very stable lab table) and even measured Newton’s constant to about 13% accuracy.

Those who looked at the photoelectric effect experiment listed here:


seemed to think it was a worthwhile investment. 

F. Next Meeting is scheduled for May 21, 2016, with June 4, 2016 held as an alternate.


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