The Physics Congress Renamed

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The Physics Congress Renamed


Molly McDonough, Cochair, 2025 Physics and Astronomy Congress Planning Committee and Graduate Student, Penn State


Sigma Pi Sigma member Molly McDonough.

You may be familiar with the one-of-a-kind meeting for physics and astronomy undergraduates, mentors, and alumni known as the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Congress, or simply PhysCon, that takes place every three years. The event is returning in 2025 with a slight—but significant—name change.

At its September 2021 meeting, the SPS Council discussed the importance of explicitly including and supporting astronomy and astrophysics students as members of the SPS community. As a result, the council proposed changing the SPS bylaws to fully reflect the mission of supporting physicists, astronomers, and those in related fields and modifying the constitution to proclaim Sigma Pi Sigma as the physics and astronomy honor society. The council ratified these changes and sent them to an SPS chapter vote; they passed with 93% approval.

In the ensuing years the SPS leadership has sought new ways to welcome and support astronomy and astrophysics members. This includes weaving more astronomy and astrophysics content into publications and events, such as the triennial Sigma Pi Sigma congresses. In June 2023, the SPS Executive Committee unanimously voted to change the meeting’s name to the Physics and Astronomy Congress

This is not the only time in Sigma Pi Sigma’s history that the congress has changed names. The first such gathering of chapters, held in 1929, was called the Sigma Pi Sigma National Convention. The gathering had similar congressional practices to the modern congress, including conducting business and setting priorities for the societies. In 1967, during what was termed a Special Convocation, the Society of Physics Students was established and it and Sigma Pi Sigma were brought under the American Institute of Physics (AIP) as linked but distinct organizations.

The first congress similar to those we know and love today came 25 years later, in 1992. That began a series of quadrennial congresses that included the 1996 Diamond Jubilee celebration of Sigma Pi Sigma’s 75th anniversary. The meeting size rapidly expanded between 2004 and 2016, from 400 attendees to over a thousand!

Due to ever-growing enthusiasm and value to the community, in 2019 the congress moved to a triennial model. At the most recent congress, in 2022, more than 1200 attendees gathered to celebrate Sigma Pi Sigma’s 100th birthday in Washington, DC.

This brings us to today. The SPS Congress Planning Committee is in the midst of preparing for the 2025 Sigma Pi Sigma Physics and Astronomy Congress to be held in Denver, Colorado, in the fall of that year. The meeting is themed “Σupporting our Πhase Σhifts” and will focus on the changes and challenges physics and astronomy students have faced in the past three years. The physics and astronomy communities, departments, SPS, Sigma Pi Sigma, faculty, and students have needed to adapt and innovate since the pandemic. The meeting will explore where that leaves us today and where we go from here.

As physicists and astronomers, we understand the power of momentum. The congress leadership hopes that at the 2025 congress, undergraduates, faculty, and alumni will be empowered and emboldened to take what they learn back home and be a force for positive change in their communities. We hope the congress will initiate a shift in momentum for all involved, giving life to new initiatives and efforts in the lives, chapters, and communities of attendees.

In keeping with this theme, the 2025 congress will have opportunities for attendees to set the priorities of SPS and ΣΠΣ going forward, find support in the rapidly changing education and career landscapes, and learn new skills to prepare for their diverse futures. The Physics and Astronomy Congress isn't just for students and faculty—alumni are invited to attend as well. Keep an eye on and for details!  


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