The Florida International University chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) has been selected as an “Outstanding SPS Chapter” for the 2007-2008 school year.
Selection is based on the depth and breadth of a chapter’s activities in several areas, including research, public education efforts, tutoring programs, and representation at physics meetings and events.
The FIU students were honored for their passion and dedication to sharing their enthusiasm for physics with others. “They wanted to show other students and the general public how much fun physics is,” said James Webb, professor of physics and advisor to the physics chapter.
The 30-student physics chapter organized and presented a unique Quantum Leap exhibition that allowed people, through the magic of physics, to appear to walk on water. The students concocted a mixture of “non-Newtonian,” non-toxic chemicals and filled a large vat with the fluid. This mixture allowed people to walk briskly over the vat without sinking.
The FIU students also presented a “hair-raising” demonstration involving a Van de Graaff generator – an electrostatic generator in which an electric charge is either removed from or transferred to a large hollow spherical electrode by a rapidly moving belt, accelerating particles to energies of about 10 million electron volts. When people touch the generator, it discharges and they get a small electrical shock, causing their hair to stand on end within seconds.
After winning an enthusiastic response from the FIU community, the students were invited to present these demonstrations at the Miami Museum of Science.
Among other activities, the physics chapter brought women physicists to campus to speak about their careers, raised money for charities, and helped the Physics Department organize “star parties” for the FIU community and the general public, inviting them to peer through telescopes and explore the moon and the planets.
“This honor from SPS highlights the excellence of our physics program and our students,” said Webb. “It really shows the community that we’re interested in developing and teaching physicists who are not just ‘ivory tower’ book learners, but active participants in society.”
The Society of Physics Students, part of the American Institute of Physics, has more than 700 chapters on college campuses across the country.