A Virtual Take on What’s Hot in Physics

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A Virtual Take on What’s Hot in Physics


Dan Fauni, SPS Chapter Vice President, and Ryan Hess, SPS Chapter Treasurer, University of the Sciences

The SPS chapter at University of the Sciences. Photo courtesy of the chapter.When the COVID-19 pandemic started surging, life as we knew it was drastically altered in several ways. Of all the things that changed for our SPS chapter at University of the Sciences, one of the most prominent was our plan for sharing science with the community. We had intended to host an in-person outreach event, as we have many times in the past, but it became clear that we would have to make some adjustments.

In this age of technology, we decided that the best course of action was to do outreach over Zoom. The questions then became, “Who do we reach out to?” and “How do we make it as interactive and effective as our in-person events?”

We chose a thermodynamics theme—What’s so hot with physics?—and decided to host the event jointly with Puratos Corporation, a Belgian multinational food company with a local presence in New Jersey. Puratos is a long-standing partner of the Physics Wonder Girls Program, a STEM camp we host on campus each summer.

Our target audience was high school students from the collective Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey region. Our chapter advisor, Dr. Roberto Ramos, reached out to the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective and advertised our program to its 400+ member STEM Ecosystem, consisting of local schools, universities, and nonprofit organizations.

Our lineup included thermodynamic demonstrations along with a plant tour and women-in-STEM forum hosted by Puratos Corporation. These additions gave it a unique twist and showed attendees that STEM plays a surprising role in food manufacturing.

To keep students interested in our virtual demos, we made some modifications. We switched out some of our usual demo gear for homemade versions, illuminating how physics can be seen in everyday life and showing attendees how to follow along and do experiments with us.

We had over 200 attendees! Our demos were a big hit, and not only with the students in the audience—they left a lasting impression on all of the SPS members as well. Fan favorites included hand boilers, ice melting blocks, and liquid crystal sheets!
Nell Grabowski, our SPS chapter president, says the event was “an eye-opening experience of the future of physics.” SPS chapter secretary Ryan Hess thinks it had a much greater impact than previous outreach activities because of the unique format. He especially liked that students had the option to do experiments at home alongside the presenters. “It was the first time I could personally see the excitement in students’ eyes,” he says.

Our chapter is extremely proud of this outreach event and its reach. The circumstances of COVID-19 were bleak, but they didn’t stop our SPS chapter from carrying this project forward. Even when the world feels dark, we can make a change for the better. 


University of the Sciences received an SPS Future Faces of Physics Award to help support this project. SPS Future Faces of Physics Awards support projects designed to promote physics across cultures. The awards of up to $500 are generously funded by donations from Sigma Pi Sigma members and friends of SPS. Applications are due November 15 each year. spsnational.org/awards/future-faces

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