BY Melissa Vasquez
Demonstrating the wonders of physics and inspiring the next generation of physicists has earned the UTRGV Society of Physics Students (SPS) honors as an Outstanding Chapter for 2015 by the SPS National Council.
This is the first time the student group has earned “Outstanding” honors among schools in Zone 13. It is the top accolade from the National Council for community efforts and student outreach. Last year, the UTRGV SPS Chapter won the Distinguished Chapter award.
“Our chapter’s main goal when interacting with our community, both on and off campus, is to raise awareness in physics and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields,” said Kareem Wahid, UTRGV SPS Chapter president. “This can range from giving talks about the benefits of studying physics, to giving interactive demonstrations of physics experiments to the general public.”
Wahid said the group enjoys providing hands-on demonstrations that help the public experience physics, with experiments like cooling superconductors to sub-zero temperatures with liquid nitrogen and demonstrating quantum levitation by having participants “walk on water” using a pool filled with shear-thickening non-Newtonian fluid. Students also get a hair-raising encounter with the Van de Graaff generator experiments.
“Mainly, we want to show that physics isn’t the boring subject that many people believe it to be. We love to capture the public’s attention with interesting and interactive demonstrations,” Wahid said.
The UTRGV chapter has about 20 student members.
Wahid said very few SPS chapters receive this distinction, and UTRGV was one of six chapters in Texas Zone 13 to get the award. There are 50 SPS chapters in Texas.
“The honor is a tremendous indication that our club has reached outstanding excellence in community outreach, scientific research, and professional development,” Wahid said.
Dr. Liang Zeng, SPS faculty adviser and associate professor in physics, said she is proud of the student organization and its efforts to get the Rio Grande Valley youth and community excited about physics and other STEM-related fields. She is grateful to the university for their encouragement, which helped earn them this moment in the spotlight.
“I greatly appreciate all the opportunities and support that the university gives to student outreach activities,” Zeng said.
Moving forward, Wahid said, the UTRGV SPS members are excited about the future for the UTRGV Society of Physics Students and the Department of Physics.
“With the groundbreaking contribution to the discovery of gravitational waves coupled with record numbers of students presenting their research at conferences, there will be no shortage of scientific development in years to come,” he said.