Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Conferences and other Off-Campus Learning Experiences
Millikin University > Academics > College of Arts and Sciences > Physics and Astronomy > SPS Chapter > Conferences and other Off-Campus Learning Experiences

2008 Sigma Pi Sigma Quadrennial Congress, November 6-8th, 2008.

On November 6-8 SPS Co-AdvisorDr. Casey Watson, senior Stephen Kohaus, juniors Shae Trumpy and Andrew Schenk, and sophomore Kevin McNelly drove up to Naperville, IL for the 2008 Sigma Pi Sigma Quadrennial Congress. This conference, held every 4 years, gives physics undergrads a chance to meet other students in the field as well as gain insight into life after graduation. The Congress attracted nearly 600 attendants from across the United States representing over 150 different colleges. The conference was held primarily at Fermi Lab, a huge National Laboratory just outside of Chicago.  Fermi is renowned for its Tevatron, or particle collider. Sigma Pi Sigma is the honorary branch of The Society of Physics Students, SPS, and the theme for this year's Congress was "Scientific Citizenship." With days starting at 6am and ending at 11pm the two and half days spent at Fermi Lab were jam packed from listening to  a Nobel Prize winner (Leon Lederman) to touring some of Fermi Labs facilities, to discussing action recommendations in small groups. Overall it was a great conference and well worth the loss of sleep!

APS April Meeting, St. Louis - April 12-14, 2008

The American Physical Society, APS, held its April meeting this year in St. Louis.  With a national meeting taking place so close to Millikin we could not resist the chance of attending such a prestigious conference.

Early on Saturday morning Dr. Martell, Dr. Watson, along with seniors Rick, and Rob with junior Brock, and sophomores Bobby and Andrew loaded up in a Milli-van for the 3 hour drive to the conference.  For the next 2 days we listened to a multitude of talks given by professionals in their respective fields.  The talks covered almost every field of physics from Astrophsyics to teaching high school physics.  With such a great variety of presentations everyone found something enjoyable and informative.

Besides the conference a trip to St. Louis also let us catch up with Matt Hicks, a Millikin physics major who is in the 3-2 program(Also see the news article here).  The 3-2 program is a cooperative offering between Millikin University and Washington University where a student spends 3 years at Millikin and then 2 at Washington to get a double major in physics and engineering. Matt reiterated how the program is going very well for him and he is on track to graduate next year.

Not only does a national conference offer hundreds of talks from professionals in the field but it also offers undergraduates a chance to present some of their research in the form of either a talk or a poster.  Three students, Robert Mentzer, Bobby Arn, and Andrew Schenk prepared posters for the conference by working with faculty for months in advance.  Their hard work was rewarded by two awards, one to Rob and one to Andrew as well as an excellent chance to network and open doors in the field.

A big thanks goes out to the Professors for arranging this trip and covering travel costs.  Also a large thanks goes to Cathy Mader and Gary White for providing travel funds for the presenters.

Green Bank Telescope - March 16, 2008

Learning at Millikin does not stop in the classroom and there is no greater testament to this than Spring Break 2008.  Three physics students, Shae Trumpy, Bobby Arn, and Andrew Schenk along with Mathematics Professor Dr. Dan Miller went to West Virginia for a two day class in how to use a radio telescope.

Radio telescopes are incredibly useful scientific tools because they can peer into many places in the cosmos that optical telescopes cannot.  This is because radio waves can pierce through clouds of dust that would normally reflect the shorter wavelengths that compose visible light.

The Green Bank Observatory is located deep within the Appalachian Mountains in a remote part of West Virginia.  This allows the extraordinarly sensitive dish to listen for radio waves without interference from terrestial sources such as radio stations, cell phones, microwave ovens, and even electric toothbrushes!  The FCC has designated the area around the Green Bank facilities as a quiet zone for such interference.

The Green Bank Observatory is actually home to many large radio telescopes although the Green Bank Telescope, GBT, is by far the largest.  It holds the title as the largest man-made moving object in the world!  A football field could rest inside the massive parabolic dish with room still left over on all sides.

Perhaps one the greatest parts of the trip was the fact that we were able to get some hands on experience with radio telescopes.  No, we did not get to operate the GBT, instead we were able to use the educational telescope to look for atomic hydrogen in the Milky Way. Our little 40 foot telescope couldn't hold a football field on its dish but it was still an amazing piece of equipment to use that provided us with a rich assortment of data that we could draw conclusions from.

A special thanks goes to Sue Ann Heatherly our Greenbank host and teacher and Dr. Miller for accompanying us on a very long road trip.

State Farm, Research Division-November 15, 2007

On Thursday morning several physics students and professors headed up to Bloomington, IL to take a tour of State Farm's research labs. After a late start everyone made it up there and were treated to a nice lunch courtesy of State Farm. Students from Illinois Wesleyan were also in attendance however there was not much time built into the schedule to interact with them.

Dr. John Werner the director of the research division and also an adjunct professor at MU kicked off the event. Following John were several State Farm employees who presented information on the type of research that is done at State Farm and how a plethora of it relates directly to the physics field. After this informative session the Millikin students parted ways from the Wesleyan group and the Big Blue students headed over to State Farm's vehicle labs. At that lab we were able to see first hand some of issues that State Farm faces. A new and complicated problem is the use of carbon fiber in automobiles. Currently carbon fiber is really only used in Ferrari's because of the speed benefits it provides. However the issue is that carbon fiber cannot be repaired in the traditional methods that steel and aluminum can be. This has forced State Farm to find new methods to repair this unique building material.

The final stop on our tour was the structural labs that State Farm has. These labs are focused on issues that pop up in insuring homes. Electrical engineers address problems that start electrical fires. Structural engineers analyze the stability of walls versus the varying forces that they are pitted against. Hail and airborne debris threaten the exterior of a house and materials are being researched to strengthen and fortify the house from outside damages.

In conclusion, the trip to State Farm's research division showed that physics can truly take you anywhere. Just when you think that there is something that physics is not in you find that the shingles on your roof have been studied and tested with physics concepts to determine their durability, the stove in your kitchen might have a fire extinguisher built into it, and the car you are riding in predicts when a crash is going to happen and prepares the vehicle to maximize your chance of survival.

A very special thanks goes to Dr. John Werner and the State Farm team for hosting these tours. Also a special thanks goes to Dr. Watson and Dr. Miller for driving.

Argonne National Laboratory-April 28, 2007

A big thanks goes out to Dr. Eric Martell, Dr. Casey Watson, and Dr. Paris Barnes for setting up a special inside tour for SPS members to travel to Argonne labs this past week. Members took a sleepy 3 hour van ride up to the Chicago area for the special occasion, with highlights being inside tours of ATLAS and APA.

We weren't allowed onto the research grounds, but we did get to look on from a glass viewing area. APS is a large donut shaped building that houses an electron "race track". Electrons whiz around the track close to 99.999999% of the speed of light giving off powerful x-rays as they complete laps. It is these x-rays that APS scientists utilize to do a large host of experiments ranging from protein structure analysis to fuel technologies.

Washington University Trip - Fall 2006

Millikin and Washington University have a 3-2 program where students can enroll at Millikin for three years and receive a physics major and then attend Washington University for 2 years and receive an engineering program.  In the fall SPS members and faculty went to visit this partner institution to get a better idea of what the program is like and how it would suite some of our students.  The trip was very informative and some Big Blue students are considering it!
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL