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[an error occurred while processing this directive] 2007 APS March Meeting in Denver, CO: A Studentís Perspective

> AIP-APS Academic/Industrial Mixer
> SPS Travel & SPS Reporter Award Recipients

By Steven Zech and Paul Cummings, SPS Reporters, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University


1987 APS March Meeting: Front row, left to right: Michael Schluter, Malcolm Beasley (Stanford), unidentified, Morrel Cohen (Chicago). Third row center Philip Anderson (Princeton); far right (silver hair), Paul Grant (IBM). More photos at http://www.aip.org/png/2007/277.htm.


Twenty years ago, at the 1987 APS March Meeting in New York City, 1,800 people gathered in a room meant for 1,100, with 2,000 more watching outside on television monitors, to discuss the developments of high-temperature superconductivity.  This single marathon session, nicknamed the “Woodstock of Physics,” began around 6:00 pm and ended just after 3:00 am; 51 speakers later.  

This year at the APS March Meeting in Denver, CO, APS celebrated the 20th Anniversary of High-Temperature Superconductivity with presentations in the "Woodstock" session by Marvin L. Cohen, J. Georg Bednorz, C. W. Chu, Douglass Scalapino, Shoji Tanaka, Robert Cava, Laura Greene, Aharon Kapitulnik, Douglas Finnemore and Paul Grant.

Along with the Woodstock session there were 43 parallel sessions with 6 – 10 talks per session, and four of these groups each day (that’s approximately 1,400 talks each day).  Topics ranged from Hydrogen Storage to Spin-Orbit Coupling, Quantum Magnetism to the History of Physics, Graphene to Physicists as Entrepreneurs, and Quantum Information to Friction. Besides the thousands of specialized talks, both an Industry Exposition and a Job fair were available to all registered participants. APS also set up special sessions for students attending the March Conference: a session for SPS, a student reception with a  (Sponsored by the Forum of Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA)), and a “Lunch with the Experts.”

Speakers in the SPS session included two of the 2006 SPS Outstanding Student Award for Undergraduate Research winners: Cary Pint of Rice University and Anthony Davidson III of Towson University.  The winners also presented their work at the 2006 International Conference of Physics Students in Bucharest, Romania, hosted by the International Association of Physics Students. Applications for this year’s Award are due April 15th. Winners will present their work at the 2007 International Conference of Physics Students in London, England; receive a $500 Honorarium, $500 for their SPS chapter, and an all-expenses-paid trip to the conference.  More information can be found here.


SPS members presented with certificates and pens for their presentations at the APS March Meeting, from Left to Right:  Mark Lombardi, Aaron Landerville, Keith McLaughlin, Anthony Davidson III, Kevin Little, Richard Bergstrom Jr., Andrew Robertson, Stefan Oehrlein. Not Shown Ryan Jacob, Cary Print, Merideth Frey, Sarah Hirschbeck, Jaun Fragoso. Photo by Robert Potts.


A problem often faced by undergraduates at professional talks is the advanced level of the subject matter.  The vast majority of presentations are about graduate-level research, and they frequently use field-specific jargon with which those who are focused in other areas may not be familiar.  While such specificity is necessary to fit all of the presenters into the schedule, it nevertheless can leave those with less experience (undergraduates) lost and confused.  At this APS March meeting, however, there were a number of sessions that were far more accessible to visiting undergraduates.  The sessions did not lack depth or complexity, in spite of their approachability.  Of special note were the Monday morning focus session “Quantum Foundations 1,” and the Tuesday afternoon session “Basic Research Needs for Superconductivity.”

The Monday morning session “Quantum Foundations 1” began with a talk on the fundamental interpretations of Quantum Mechanics.  Robert Spekkens’ “Almost quantum theory: classical theories with a constraint on knowledge” presented a new interpretation of quantum theory; that of a purely epistemic (as opposed to a partially ontic) representation of reality.  

For those without a dictionary handy, an ontic theory of reality represents what actually is, whereas an epistemic theory of reality only represents what we know.  A similar debate arose among the ancient Greeks with regards to astronomical theory.  The Grecian “celestial sphere” theory of astronomy was, for the most part, interpreted as a purely mathematical construct representing only what was known.  In other words, it was a purely epistemic theory.  However, certain groups of Greek astronomers interpreted this theory as representative of reality; in other words, there really was a network of spheres suspending all of the heavenly bodies in orbit around the Earth.  They thought it was a purely ontic theory.

Spekkens began his presentation with the idea that quantum mechanical theory is a purely epistemic theory, representing the available knowledge of more intuitive, classical concepts, rather than reality itself.  He then introduces a “knowledge balance postulate,” which states that the maximum amount of knowledge available about a system is equal to the amount of knowledge that is unavailable about that system.  In other words, only 50% of the available information about the system is ever available at any one time.  He then demonstrated how this interpretation aligns with the predictions of basic quantum theory, including a discussion of the often-sticky subject of wave function collapse.  He also included an epistemic interpretation of the phenomenon of quantum teleportation.  In spite of the depth of this presentation, however, it was clear enough for a student with only an undergraduate-level understanding of quantum theory.

The Tuesday afternoon session, “Basic Research Needs for Superconducting,” was similarly significant, and similarly accessible to undergraduates.  This was a group of talks that was less about the finicky details of superconductors and more about the practical challenges to integrating superconducting technology into everyday use.  These talks were based on the Department of Energy paper of the same name, and presented a lot of the same ideas.  Several of these talks discussed the basics of making superconducting materials and the unique challenges faced, and as such were much more accessible to the typical undergraduate.  In addition, the first and last talks were not about superconductor science at all, but rather about the applications thereof.  These two talks were in a way the most informative, because they provided a concise summary of the state-of-the-art in superconducting theory.  All-in-all, it looks like the integration of superconductors into the current energy architecture is a challenging task, yet it is also achievable and certainly worth the effort.

It can be hard for undergraduate students to keep up with the swarms of graduate students and PhD’s at professional conferences.  At the APS March meeting, not all of the talks were designed such that only a handful of experts will understand or care about their subject matter.  There were still plenty of sessions from which the interested undergraduate could take away a wealth of useful knowledge.  If your passion is physics you belong at the APS meeting.  Hope to see you in New Orleans in March, 2008. 

2007 APS March Meeting: Exhibits

By Robert Potts, SPS Reporter, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The highlight of my experience at this year's APS March Meeting was the exhibit hall.  This huge room was packed with more interesting equipment and gadgets than I could gander at.  In walking around the floor, I found many booths that I thought worthy of a mention.

One of the first booths that I halted at was that of Teach Spin.  Teach Spin is dedicated to creating instruments designed to helping students understand and enjoy physics.  The lab that immediately caught my eye was a two slit interference chamber that allows students to study the wave-particle duality of a photon.  The sensitivity of the instrument allows students to deal with single photons and gain hands-on experience with this unusual phenomenon.  The website for Teach Spin is www.teachspin.com and I would highly recommend visiting their site if you are interested in purchasing lab equipment or simply learning more about them.

A booth that I found to be helpful for a lot of the research that I participate in was that of A&N Corporation.  They specialize in the production of high vacuum flanges, fittings, piping and other components.  A lot of undergraduate research projects (as well as graduate and post-doctoral research projects) focus on devices that require high-vacuum environments.  For example, Penning traps (a common electromagnetic device used for storing charged particles) require a high vacuum environment.  They also frequently need to be integrated into other systems.  The folks at A&N Corporation listened to my needs and directed me to the exact components that our organization required.  They were in general helpful and I look forward to working with them on this and other projects.  A&N Corporation’s website is www.ancorp.com and I highly recommend contacting them if you are planning on working with vacuums in an upcoming project.

The booth that excited me the most was that of Advanced Magnet Lab (AML).  Particle accelerators, and accelerator-based systems, are common research tools at all levels.  Unfortunately for many undergraduates, the complexity and scale inherent to the design and operation of these devices typically restricts them to graduate-level work.  The electromagnet technology offered by AML promises to change all that by making the complex electromagnetic fields needed to operate a particle accelerator cheaper to manufacture and easier to design. In one of our many talks with Mark Senti, the representative from AML, we discussed how the amazing technology works.  By simply taking your specifications and placing them into their proprietary software COILCAD®, they can design and manufacture a piece of piping that fits your exact needs.  They claim that they can create fields up to 6 Tesla in strength and in the configuration of a solenoid, dipole, quadrupole or a sextupole.  They can work with most of the size requirement and curvatures that you might need.  They have many various applications and we found out that you can create a vacuum within the piping, opposed to placing the piping within a vacuum.  Their website is www.magnetlab.com and contains helpful information on their breakthroughs in the industry of magnetic field technology.   

Among the many publishers present, I purchased books from Oxford University Press, Springer Publishing, and W.W. Norton & Company.  One of the books which I am extremely pleased with is The Particle Detector Briefbook by R. K. Bock and A. Vasilescu.  This is an informative and knowledgeable book that I hope to read before attending PAC07 in June of this year.  Another book that I am happy to say that I own is Physics for Engineers and Scientist: Vol. 1 by H. Ohanian.  This book is filled with helpful graphics and has an informative and clear layout.  The number of rare books present at the exhibit was amazing and the selection was far better than anything you could hope for at your local Borders.  If you have an interest in finding something specific, I would highly recommend looking for it at next year conference.
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