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Minutes of Physics Theorynet Meeting, June 4, 2016

Physics Theorynet Meeting, June 4, 2016

Room 218 Dana Building, Northeastern University




Nick Nicastro, Wachusett Regional HS

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

Mike Wadness, Medford H.S.

Michael Hirsh, Needham H.S.

Ken Olum, Tufts University

Per Berglund, University of New Hampshire

Scott Goelzer, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy

Nancy Najmi, Reading Memorial H.S.

Elaine Picard, Concord-Carlisle H.S.

John Samperisi, Monadnock Regional H.S.

Brent Nelson, Northeastern University


Nivedi Das, Sharon H.S.

Russell Sears, Cohasset H.S.

Chris Siren, Groton-Dunstable Regional HS

Tomasz Taylor, Northeastern University

Richard Levergood, Londonderry HS

Jim Halverson, Northeastern University

Matthew Headrick, Brandeis University

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.

After a brief round of introductions we went around the room describing the theorist/instructor interactions that have taken place thus far. 

1) George Odell -- Ken Olum: George's class from North Andover took a field trip to Tufts to visit with Ken. Ken discussed gravity waves and lensing, and demonstrated the new Cavendish experiment apparatus. Ken also visited The Sage School in Foxboro, where he met with 4th, 7th and 8th graders to discuss the Cavendish experiment.

2) Michael Wadness — Daniel Jafferis: Daniel came to visit in February. 

3) Michael Wadness -- Brent Nelson: Brent came to visit in mid June, speaking to two classes, of approximately 30 students total.

4) Nancy Najmi -- Phiala Shanahan: Phiala gave a "terrific presentation", geared towards non-scientists. The talk included her take on MIT, how to become a scientist, and how academics can still have full lives.

5) Elaine Picard -- Jesse Thaler: Jesse addressed approximately 200 students at Concord-Carlisle; every class in the day. The students watched YouTube clips of the movie "Particle Fever" before the visit. The presentation was a biographical segment followed by lots of Q&A. The questions ranged from black holes, to the Higgs discovery, physics in the movies and the lifestyle of being a scientist.

6) Nick Nicastro — Tom Taylor: Tom returned to Wachusett Regional in April to visit the 90 minute block class of honors/senior level Modern Physics students. As it happened, the Standard Model was being covered in class at that time.

7) Mike Hirsh -- Jim Halverson: Jim made his second visit to Needham, addressing about 36 students in two classes. The presentation included biographical information, a discussion of gravity waves and the recent LIGO observation, and Q&A.

In some cases, a visit failed to materialize, or no representative was available to discuss the visit. These included:

Nivedi Das -- Jiji Fan

Scott Goelzer -- Per Berglund

Matt Headrick -- Roxbury Latin

Chris Siren -- Brent Nelson

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

A special thank you to those of you have been sending brief reports after class visits, with information on the number of students who attended. I will try to do a better job at keeping the shared Google Doc (spreadsheet) updated with this information. 


Please note that there is a tab for TheoryNet equipment, which is not fully populated yet. This is our primary record for who has what piece of equipment at any given time, so please do update it as appropriate!

D. Equipment

Brent will be ordering a new power supply for the electron diffraction experiment (apologies for not getting to that sooner!), and new (back-up) torsion ribbons for the Cavendish experiment. Assuming the budget allows, we will also purchase a photo-electric effect experiment. As these pieces come in, I will be updating the spreadsheet.

Thanks to Ken for pioneering the Cavendish equipment! A decent measurement of Newton's gravitational constant is routinely obtained, but the equipment needs lots of time and care to be installed properly before doing the experiment/using it as a demo. The lab table should be extremely solid and sturdy. The base that came with the equipment is very heavy (a lighter base could be machined to work just as well), but the room should be seismically stable, if possible. The equipment should be allowed 24 hours to fully damp down before a measurement is made.

A lot of apparently unnecessary equipment came with the Cavendish apparatus, including a universal interface for PASCOS DAQ, additional stands, a video camera, etc. The additional stuff is in Brent's office for the time being. The necessary parts were taken by Scott Goelzer who hopes to be able to build a box for the equipment by the fall. Thanks, Scott!

E. Goodbyes

June 4 marked the last meeting for two founding members of Theorynet: Rick Dower of Roxbury Latin and Nick Nicastro of Wachusett Regional. Both thanked the faculty and the other HS instructors for their participation, and in making the program so rewarding. We thank them both for the many years with Theorynet! Good luck, and happy retirement to both!

F. Next Meeting is scheduled for September 24, 2016.


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