Sea and Sun and Physics!

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Meeting Notes - SPS Reporters at Science Conferences

Sea and Sun and Physics!

The XXXI International Conference of Physics Students, August 11-17, 2016, held in Msida on the Island of Malta.


Angela Ludvigsen

University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Angela Ludgivsen on the island of Gozo in the Maltese Archipelago. Photo courtesy of Angela Ludvigsen

The International Conference of Physics Students (ICPS) is sponsored by the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS) with the goal of collaboration on and discussion of current issues in science. The Society of Physics Students sponsors a competition which helps two students attend this annual conference. I won the SPS Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research and was honored to be chosen by SPS to represent our country. Louis Varriano, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Class of 2017, was the other student chosen (pictured below).

Louis Varriano in front of his poster presentation at ICPS. Photo courtesy of Louis VarrianoI arrived on the beautiful island of Malta, located in the Mediterranean Sea near the coast of Italy, on the first day of the conference and immediately was immersed in opportunities to meet physicists from around the world. The University of Malta in Msida hosted the event and more than 350 students from many different countries were in attendance. Multiple languages were being spoken, but energy and enthusiasm was common to everyone. Most attendees were graduate students, ready to practice presenting their research and to support fellow physics students.

There were ten scheduled times throughout the conference for students to present research, with 10­–12 presentations made during each session. There was a rich array of research offered, and it was difficult to choose which of the lectures to attend. Research in materials was heavily represented, followed by astro- and cosmology, atomic, particle, and quantum physics. Also well represented were data analysis and simulation, medical physics, planetary astronomy, nuclear physics, geophysics, and electromagnetism. There were also lectures in physics philosophy.

I presented my research, titled, “Laser Power Effects on the Size of an Optically Trapped Aerosol Droplet Determined Via Whispering Gallery Modes.” Using Raman spectroscopy, I had examined the location and spacing of peaks related to the diameter and the optical properties of an aerosol droplet. For specific ratios of the radius and laser wavelength, the light on the droplet creates a resonance about its circumference. My research goal was to investigate and analyze the motion of the droplet to determine how motion relates to a droplet’s size variations and resonance with the laser beam. My presentation went well. I was delighted to have participants tell me many times afterward that SPS students are always well prepared.

In addition to student research presentations, there were also workshops. One workshop addressed connecting all levels of students with science worldwide through the Gateway 2 Science portal. Over a million student, instructor, and professional profiles are expected to be hosted on the platform, allowing connections for collaboration and for sharing research. Another workshop focused on improving communication skills for scientists.

There were five guest lectures by physicists. In one, Prof. Mark McCaughrean spoke about the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission: to find the target comet, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a 10-year journey and send the lander Philae down to its surface. Philae landed badly and went silent for a time, but awakened when the comet passed close to the sun. McCaughrean emphasized the importance of setting aggressive goals and working hard to accomplish them. Even if something goes wrong, there will be something you can learn.

My accent was a giveaway that I am American, and I had many opportunities to talk about my physics experiences and life in the United States. This was also a great opportunity to share information about the Society of Physics Students National Council projects. SPS had sent me a box of swag to share with conference participants. Included were little kits to make airplanes, diffraction glasses (huge hit!), bookmarks, and loads of Radiations and Observer magazines to share. Since we shared housing with the IAPS Executive Committee, Louis and I took advantage of the many opportunities to talk about SPS and strengthen ties between IAPS and SPS.

Each evening there were social opportunities to meet other physicists. My favorite was Nation’s Night, which invited students to prepare and share a dish from their country.  After we discovered that people were unfamiliar with marshmallows, Louis and I decided s’mores were in order. We visited the local market and purchased “American-style BBQ mallows” and chocolate. We searched in vain for graham crackers—they were not to be found. Digestive biscuits served as a replacement. Using an oven in our residence, we prepared platters of s’mores for the crowd. Most had heard of the sweet treat through American movies but had never tasted one. Many people requested the recipe!

Another highlight was a tour through the beautiful city of Msida. Many of the buildings are made of the local limestone. Paints are limited to the blue and green palette. The islands of Malta boast enough beautiful old churches to visit a different one every day of the year and enough festivals for every weekend in the summer.

Participants had opportunities to select from a list of special excursions. The choices ranged from cultural options, like museums or archaeological excavations, to scientific labs, like the Maltese Meteorological Office at the Malta International Airport, the Metrology Directorate where measurements are calibrated, the Life Sciences Park, Sentech Malta FP where fiber optic gyroscopes are made, the Diagnostic Science Laboratories, or the Mepa-Zejtun Air Quality Station. We could also learn about the manufacture of sensors and switches at Methode Electronics, tour the Cisk Brewery, or go sea kayaking. I chose the Diagnostic Science Laboratories, where the restoration and conservation of valuable artwork, architecture, and monuments takes place. When preventing further deterioration of a piece, extensive research is conducted into the artist’s techniques and how the environmental conditions where the piece is displayed may affect the art. The lab is adept at detecting forgeries and alterations to works of art. The laboratory is charged with preserving the many cultural treasures and heritage sites in Malta.

It was an honor to represent SPS and the United States at the XXXI International Conference of Physics Students. I enjoyed this opportunity to present my undergraduate research. Being a part of the ICPS 2016 conference gave me a fantastic opportunity to connect with physics students from around the world, learn about new areas of physics, explore a different culture, try new foods, and experience a beautiful part of the world. The 2017 conference will be in Turin, Italy. Hope to see you there!

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