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News

Student organization brings out the fun in physics

BY ROBERT REEBEL

On a bright fall afternoon, the lights dim inside a classroom in CSU’s Science Research Building where a crowd of people have gathered for pizza. Suddenly, the air is filled with the odor of natural gas, a shower of sparks flashes and dozens of flames jump upward from a long metal tube on display at the front of the classroom.

A student flips a switch on a mysterious black box next to the tube and a steady, high-pitched tone pierces the quiet that had settled over the crowd. The flames begin to dance. As the student twists a knob on the black box, the tone shifts its pitch and the flames change their dance to keep up with it.

Welcome to the world of the Society of Physics Students, an organization dedicated to spreading the message that physics is fun for all and that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate the beauty of the laws of nature in action.

Rubens Tube

Prasenjit Bose, secretary of the CSU chapter of SPS, explained the physics behind his dancing flames to the audience. The apparatus, called a Rubens tube, works as the molecules of gas in the tube is made to vibrate at a particular frequency by the sound waves introduced by a black box called a resonator. This wave causes the size of the flames to arrange themselves in a wavelike pattern due to fluctuations in the gas pressure inside the tube which correlate with the frequency of the sound wave.

In addition to explaining well-understood phenomena like the Rubens tube on display at the fall semester’s kickoff meeting, SPS meetings also include discussions and presentations of the latest research coming out of the Physics Department at CSU. Other presentations may describe work in the field done by physics students over the summer or opportunities for physics students in search of paid research work.

On Oct. 13, SPS will host a presentation by Achille Nicoletti, a student of physics and electrical engineering, in room 117 of the Science Building. Nicoletti will talk about his cooperative educational experience at Philips Healthcare working with control systems for medical scanning devices.

Students with majors outside the sciences are also encouraged to attend meetings and join the fun, according to chapter publicist Lindsay Stanceu. SPS also hopes to recruit the next generation of physics majors with presentations at area middle schools and high schools slated for later in the school year. “It lets these younger students see the extraordinary inner workings of the world around us,” Stanceu said.

Faculty adviser Dr. Kiril Streletzky, who helped establish the current incarnation of SPS in 2005 after a years-long hiatus, said he hopes the outreach to younger students can help dispel some of the students’ fears of the sciences. “Physics is not that scary at all,” Streletzky said.

Presentations given to high school and middle school students have involved contests in which an everyday physical phenomenon, such as a common sight or sound, is demonstrated. The children are given one week to come up with the best scientific explanation of the phenomenon in hopes of winning a prize. Streletzky said he hopes that students will come to appreciate physics and that “it can be quite fun.”

This past March, chapter president Krista Freeman and treasurer Ryan McDonough attended a meeting of the American Physical Society in Pittsburgh, Pa. About 7,000 physicists were gathered, but the only undergraduate students presenting their research came from Cleveland State’s SPS membership, whose presentations dealt with nanotechnology and polymers.

A list of upcoming SPS events, including the popular end-of-semester tradition of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, can be found on the CSU physics department web site at http://www.csuohio.edu/sciences/dept/physics/physicsweb/spsseminar.htm.

 

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