A Biology Student Goes to the SPS Zone 17 Meeting

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SPS Zone Meeting

April 20, 2018

Corvallis, Oregon

Meeting host:

Society of Physics Students


Alexander Gloger

SPS Chapter:

After a long and gratuitously stressful but eye-opening spring semester, I figured I ought to treat myself to a small trip to a part of the country that I’d never been to before: Oregon. I would accompany our chapter president, Riley Troyer, to the Zone 17 Meeting. We would fly to Seattle and then drive to Corvallis, Oregon to confer with other SPS chapters at Oregon State University.

For Riley, traveling on official physics business was nothing new, but for me I had no idea what to expect from this voyage, many leagues away from Fairbanks. And for that matter, it was only the second time anybody from Alaska had ever gone to a zone meeting before.

We arrived in the afternoon, after a long car ride across a mixed landscape of mountains and plains saturated with countless evergreens, asserting their presence into every inch of the horizon. Upon our arrival in Corvallis, we were greeted by an Earth free of snow and beginning to blossom with the essence of spring.

We entered a large, intimidating building with various twists and turns where many brilliant young minds prepared to become scientists. It was nothing compared to the simple, yet seemingly innocuous, Reichardt building back in Fairbanks, Alaska. This place was big. Even for someone like myself, who comes from a giant metropolis, its size was truly remarkable.

For the first event that evening, we watched a presentation by the APS president, Dr. Laura Green, about superconductor magnets and how they might revolutionize the technological world. To amplify the astounding feat that this modern marvel had, she demonstrated the effects of super-chilling by pouring liquid nitrogen on the ground and watching it boil at room temperature. After all, superconductors need to be super chilled to work properly. It’s bewildering to discover how different branches of science such as physics and chemistry intertwine to bring us such advanced technology, a common and reoccurring theme we would see all throughout the zone meeting.

The demonstration ended, and we met up with our Alaskan counterparts from the University of Alaska Anchorage, who had arrived earlier than us. Like me, none of them were actual physics majors, although they were pursuing degrees in STEM fields. After uniting, we proceeded upstairs for the opening of the SPS Zone 17 Meeting. We were greeted by a table with name tags arranged neatly on it. I conquered mine and then entered into a large room with round tables. Others SPS members, who had arrived earlier, were seated around the tables.

The commencing feature of the meeting, a presentation by an Italian physicist, Dr. David Lazzati, began the conference with a bang (literally). His explanation of gamma ray bursts and his research into the many isotopes and chemical elements in the universe stretched far and wide across the furthest reaches of the galaxy. It is interesting how in some respects, we know more about the universe around us than our own planet.

The evening closed with refreshments and a foreshadowing of the following day by the OSU chapter president. Instead of just departing from the campus, we were greeted by two fellow SPS students from OSU who offered to show us around. On the tour we saw their SPS room which was remarkably bigger than ours. We then left the physical science building and walked around the campus. We saw the many more and grand evergreen trees, historic brick buildings, and students going about their days heading in all directions across the warm-lit evening landscape that was the university. We quickly grabbed dinner and made our way to the humble little apartment we had rented.

We started day two with a decathlon centered around the physical sciences. For most bright minds like Riley, soon to be entering a PhD program, this was no problem. From my biology background, many of the questions had no application whatsoever; however, my Chemistry background helped greatly. Ms. Kiana of UAA, and her mathematics background also helped the team out greatly in answering the more equation-oriented questions. Aside from the trivial challenges of the competition, there were physical tasks to be undertook that included the construction of the most tall and stable tower made purely from spaghetti straws and masking tape, and even the conquest to design of the most aerodynamically rigorous paper airplane.

Next, we spoke via a video conference with the esteemed director of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, Dr. Brad Conrad, who had lots of helpful information. We had a question and answer session and heard about his journey to SPS. He congratulated us on our turnout and reinvigorated us with words of encouragement and reassurance, the very thing all STEM students need at the very end of a stressful semester. We then proceeded into several other presentations by graduate students and alumni of OSU. We observed the many pathways in life they have taken or plan to take as well as learned about the many options available to not just physics students but STEM students in general. I think it’s fair to say that we will rule the world, eventually.

The last event of the meeting was a tour of the OSU labs, which had various applied physics projects ongoing within. I toured the biophysics lab. Here the scientists studied the various shapes and geometries that cancer cells can assume. The hope is to expose vulnerabilities and ultimately help treat cancer. Physics, geometry and biology intermeshed within the same project. Amazing.

We closed the meeting around the seal of the university, embossed within the center of a large grassy field that lit up fluorescently from the clear skies with nothing to obstruct the powerful sun. After a final photo with all the zone 17 attendees and saying goodbye to our newly-made friends, we departed back to Alaska a little tired, a little wiser, reassured, and a little more informed. Not bad for an overnight trip.