Starry Nights at Sacramento State’s Zone 18 Meeting

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In The Zone - Regional SPS Highlights

Starry Nights at Sacramento State’s Zone 18 Meeting


Mayia Vranas, Associate Zone Councilor, SPS National Council, University of California, Berkeley

Students gaze up at the planetarium show on the first day of the Zone 18 meeting.We sat in the center of the room, eyes gazing upward at the starry night sky. We watched, impressed, as Dr. Barniol Duran guided us through the cosmos, showing us constellations visible in different parts of the world, nearby stars, and the relative sizes of bodies in our own solar system. The show brought us back to childhood moments in planetariums or hours spent gazing at the real night sky. It concluded with a movie about the astronomers of ancient Egypt, who had the brilliant cosmos in full view, free of today’s light pollution.

Sacramento State University’s planetarium is a brilliant tool for undergraduate courses and local outreach, and the show was just one of the many events that Sacramento State had planned for us at Zone 18’s annual zone meeting. Zone 18 comprises SPS chapters in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and several international chapters. This year’s meeting, though intimate, brought many Northern California chapters together and included a variety of exciting events.

The meeting began on a Friday with a tour of the California State Capitol building. We met Shahid Hussain, Sacramento State’s SPS chapter president, at the steps of the building and were guided through the state’s lawmaking process. With the upcoming elections this year, we were reminded of the impact that policymakers have on our resources as physicists. The tour was followed by the show at Sacramento State’s new planetarium and a game night in their electronics lab and study room. We played Super Smash Bros., parsed through their extensive physics book collection, and bonded with each other.

The second day of the meeting was packed with events, including a tour of their beautiful campus, several talks, and a small poster session, during which we communicated about the types of research we were conducting at our different schools. We also heard from two wonderful speakers. Dr. Mikkel Jensen spoke about his fascinating work in the field of biophysics at Sacramento State, studying proteins and filaments and the use of optical trapping in his research. Later, Dr. Jeff Parker gave a talk about his work as a plasma physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and provided an overview of the advancements in work on nuclear fusion in recent years. This is a topic relevant to all young physicists as we evaluate how our work may impact the global climate crisis.

Interspersed throughout the meeting were various demonstrations from our zone councilor Don Williams, who traveled from Fresno State University in a van loaded with physics outreach tools. He showed us physics demonstrations of varying levels of complexity and taught us how to teach and execute these demos with different age groups. We watched a superconducting magnet spin, launched a Ping-Pong ball through aluminum cans with the force of the atmosphere, and enjoyed some delicious liquid nitrogen ice cream.

The meeting concluded with a talk from Mikayla Cleaver, the SPS programs coordinator, and a discussion about imposter syndrome. Cleaver spoke about the resources that SPS National has to offer and had us mark our calendars for the 2021 Physics Congress. Finally, we ended the day with my talk about the research and data on imposter syndrome and a heart-to-heart about our own experiences as undergraduates. After an exciting and eventful meeting, the students returned home excited about connecting with other SPS chapters and full of ideas for events of their own.

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