Physics Club Brings Students Together
March 16, 2006 10:58 PM
To many students, the words "Physics Club" don't exactly bring to mind a fun, social organization that does humanitarian projects. The students of SF State's Physics and Astronomy Club are out to bust some myths and stereotypes.
Some club members are helping expand science education in South Africa. A project called Free High School Science Texts based at the University of Cape Town tapped five PAC members to co-write a textbook chapter on light and optics. Over 150 young scientists involved in the project are working to provide free high school science textbooks to all South Africans and the collaborators hope other organizations will use their work to provide free text books anywhere in the world they are needed.
M. Vivian White, president of PAC, said that the difficult problem was translating standard optics examples, such as light refracting through a clear glass of water, to examples that anyone in the world, regardless of technology or poverty level, would relate to.
“They don’t have glasses, they might have buckets of water,” she said.
The text book, which is in the process of being accredited, is not the only project White is working on. She also volunteers for Project ASTRO created by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, based in San Francisco. White and two other SF State Astronomy students visit elementary and middle schools in the city to help teach astronomy. They take kids outside to look at the stars and planets through a telescope and do other hands-on activities.
Membership in the PAC is free to all declared physics or astronomy majors, and physics grad students. But to most PAC Members the club is a place to hang out and meet up, in their study room in the basement of Thornton Hall room 115. Small but well organized, the club house can fit a dozen students easily, and can squeeze in even more for events like Pi day, where on 3/14 at 1:59 PM they celebrate the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference by eating chocolate and pumpkin pies, and sharing pizza with mathematics students, who have their own study room but no club house to hang out in.
White, who is graduating this semester, used homemade pie to recruit new PAC officers to run the club next fall.
“It’s like a family,” she told them.
The study room itself is what Adam Windham said drew him into PAC. A physics graduate student who previously studied at UC Berkeley, he said that the clubby atmosphere students have here makes them much more willing to work together.
“At Cal the study room was four or five times the size of this room, but there was no interaction,” he said.
Seeing his classmates party together or crashing on the sofa in the lab actually has helped him get assignments done.
“The fact is you see people at their worst,” said Windham, “and it makes them willing to work as a team.”
PAC events coordinator Michelle Wen said that she finds it hard to study. Many PAC members go into the department's computer lab just down the hall for some peace and quiet.
White said she really appreciated the observatory in Thornton Hall where on clear nights, PAC students gather to watch the stars.
“You can see Saturn (in the evening) now, it’s really beautiful,” she said.
The PAC raises operating funds by printing and selling lab manuals for science classes. They raise enough to pay for their own events and outings, as well as offering SF State physics and astronomy students an introductory membership to the national Society of Physics Students. They will pay up to $60 to send any member to up to two science conferences each year.
Monday nights the PAC also play in the SF State Indoor Soccer B League. The team, Maxwell’s Demons, is named after an imaginary creature which James Clerk Maxwell thought up as a contradiction of the laws of thermodynamics.
This week, the club is measuring light pollution for another collaborative international project GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) at Night. By observing which stars are visible from the observatory at SF State, they will help scientists measure how air quality varies all over the world.
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