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2004 Quadrennial Congress of Sigma Pi Sigma
   — by Luke Swanson, SPS Reporter, Carthage College
      Chapter, Kenosha, WI

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Opening Remarks
Sigma Pi Sigma President Steve Feller of Coe College opens the 2004 Quadrennial Congress of Sigma Pi Sigma

Sigma Pi Sigma President Steve Feller of Coe College opens the 2004 Quadrennial Congress of Sigma Pi Sigma


The opening remarks at the 2004 Quadrennial Congress of Sigma Pi Sigma were made by Steve Feller, President of Sigma Pi Sigma; David Dunlap, Committee Chair, APS Four Corners Meeting; Marc Brodsky, Executive Director & CEO, AIP; and Mildred Dresselhaus, Chair of the AIP Governing Board.

These opening statements set the stage for the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress and the 2005 World Year of Physics, with each person touching on different aspects of the general message, which was the planning of programs to raise public awareness to promote the study of physics. They had very good ideas for APS projects such as Physics on the Road and Speaker Programs. They talked about projects that are already underway such as the NASA KC-135, light around the world, Physics talent show and the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge. Another topic that was brought up was Community College programs and what SPS has done and is doing to promote physics jobs out of 2 year colleges.

Keynote Address
Keynote Speaker Jocelyen Bell Burnell

Keynote Speaker Jocelyen Bell Burnell prepares a visual aid demonstrating the signals emitted by pulsars.


The keynote address was delivered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Dean of Science at University of Bath, England. She delivered a dynamo opening speech on "Pulsars and Extreme Physics." She began by giving a brief lesson in Astrophysics and star composition which led her into the discovery of pulsars, what they are and what their properties are.

Her very energetic speech not only engaged the audience but clearly showed her innate teaching skills as she had the audience full of the world’s greatest physicist answer questions as she progressed through her presentation.

One thing I put together later was the similarities between the physics behind pulsars and that of Bose-Einstein condensates. This was a very intriguing analogy and sparked my own personal interest on the topic and could possibly pan out to be my senior thesis topic.

Einstein, 1905, 1999: Legacy and Hope
John Rigden

Speaker John Rigden captivated congress attendees with his expertise on the history of Albert Einstein and his groundbreaking work.


Author and Historian John Rigden gave a very enthusiastic background on arguabley one of the most famous scientists of all time, Albert Einstein. Dr. Rigden provided the history of Einstein and his work from his early days as a patent clerk to his final days after he immigrated to the United States. One notable point in his speech was Einstein's influence on the Manhattan project development by his influential presence in the White House. Along with this, Dr. Rigden talked about Einstein’s predictions throughout his career and how initially they were ridiculed but later declared as ingenious and accepted by the scientific community. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rigden prior to the dinner banquet that night:

Q: How does it feel being one of a select few distinguished speakers at the 2004 Quadrennial Congress of Sigma Pi Sigma?

A: “It’s absolutely wonderful. I'm honored, anxious and nervous all at once”

Q: You have had several prestigious jobs and taken part in many important events in physics, what in your mind stands out as either one you’ll never forget or one you feel is the most important?

A: “What’s important to me has changed over time as I think it has with any one. I loved being in school and having my future ahead of me. I loved being a professor and teaching young people the importance of asking the big questions. I loved being an Administrator and overseeing the development of the school. Right now I love being retired and writing these books for the general public hopefully illustrating the importance our history and the promise of our future.”

Q: You’ve written and co-edited several acclaimed physics books, most recently being Einstein 1905: The Standard of Greatness, what motivated you to write these books? Have your experiences as an undergraduate or graduate shaped the ideas behind your books?

A: “Well when I taught an introduction to physics course, I decided to take a history viewpoint on it. I had success with my students and decided that this would be a good book. When I looked and no book had been written like that before I decide maybe I should write one. One thing that was interesting was having it reviewed. I had it reviewed by both a physicist and historian. The physicist gave a simple straight forward review while the historian picked away at the details behind my book. I was interesting to see the differences there.”

Q: If you were an undergraduate today, what field of research would you go into and why?

A: “Atomic Physics, trapping atoms to test quantum mechanics. Einstein didn’t believe in quantum till the day he died and look at what we’ve proven from his predictions. It really gives you something to think about.”

Taking the Ethics of Einstein into the 21st Century

If one had to sum up the point that Dr. John Rigden made in his history of Einstein, it would be Einstein’s famous quote of “Remember your humanity, forget the rest.” Dr. Rigden began this session with a brief overview of Einstein’s positions on worldly affairs. He noted that Einstein was a pacifist, opposed to the use of force except when confronted by an enemy set out for destruction.

Along with his history of Einstein's insight and positions on topics, Dr. Rigden laid out Einstein’s philosophy to working with and understanding physics.

These practices for doing physics are:

  1. Question assumptions
  2. Work from first principles
  3. Pursue ideas to there conclusions
  4. Work from reality, not ideology
  5. Maintain inner freedom

One of Einstein’s greatest contributions outside of science was his outspokenness on issues of persecution. He was a member of numerous organizations against racism, fascism, militarism and so on. He pointed out that for an action to be necessary and just it must advance the human race.

Dr. Rigden did not apply Einstein’s ethics to today’s issues but rather let us make our own assumptions as to how Einstein would feel if he were here today. His closing remarks were to quote Einstein, “…may we make it our own and take it with us through the 21st Century.”

Pursuing Einstein’s Legacy in the Four Corners
Chris Impey (photo: Lori Stiles)

Chris Impey, one of several speakers from the APS Four Corners Section (photo: Lori Stiles).


This talk was given by Chris Impey. This consisted of more of an applied aspect of Einstein’s theories to explain the universal expansion and energy. This was revealed as dark energy, a force which was recently theorized and one which we know little about. It was conceived as an explanation as to the gravitational effects observed in galaxies. With the amount of matter in the galaxy there should not be the observed rotation in the galaxy but rather should be spun out. Hence dark energy was theorized. Although dark energy has not been proven yet, its corresponding matter, dark matter has been proven through lensing.

The First Man Made Atomic Explosion

Saturday's Banquet Speaker Worth Seagondollar (center) is presented with honoroary membership in Sigma Pi Simga by society president Steve Feller (left) and Sara Campbell (right).


Dr. Worth Seagondollar, a past president of Sigma Pi Sigma, gave an inspiring and at times humorous portrayal of what he experienced when we was a student working on the Manhattan Project at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. His experiences inspired the audience while at the same time gripping them with the reality of the serious project he was working on and some of the situations he found himself in. This note was lightened however with his sense of humor about the extraordinary events that took place during his stay there.


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Sigma Pi Sigma kicks-off the World Year of Physics 2005

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