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Intriguing Sessions at AAPT

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The 2010 AAPT Summer Meeting, July 17-21, Portland, OR
by SPS intern Shane Allison, University of Wyoming


SPS Intern Shane Allison presenting his poster on Video and Compiling for ComPADRE.


This July, I was able to attend the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Summer Meeting 2010. This meeting was held in Portland from the 17 to the 21 of July. I attended the conference for three days and it was a great experience. The conference activities that I found most interesting were the various presentations, the panel sessions, and the Physics of Vaudeville show at the end of the conference.

The first thing that I did at the meeting was present a poster at the Society of Physics Students (SPS) poster session. My poster was on my current internship with ComPADRE, the physics and astronomy digital library. This was a great experience because I was able to talk to many difference people about ComPADRE and how we are trying to make it even better. At the session I met someone who earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wyoming, which is the school I am currently attending. Talking to someone that had attended the same university, but at a higher level, was a great experience. I was also able to answer questions for a group of students who had come from China to present posters at a later poster session. This was really cool because some of them had used ComPADRE before and liked our improvements.
There were many different types of sessions at the meeting. I attended three main types of sessions: plenary sessions that lasted about an hour and a half, shorter presentation sessions which ranged from 10 minutes to 30 minutes per talk, and panel sessions which included about 45 minutes of talks followed by a question and answer period. For the most part, I preferred the 30 minute talks. I think this is because they were short and sweet, and I didn’t listen to one that I didn’t find interesting.

The plenary sessions at the AAPT conference were fantastic. The three talks that I attended were Breasts and Brains, Similarities and Differences: Using Novel Physics to Enhance Clinical Molecular Imaging; Femtosecond Optical Frequency Combs; and Lasers and the Eye. The first talk started with a very interesting question that I hadn’t considered, What is a laser? The speaker addressed how LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, but said that now lasers can be created by different means and some of them work under different principles. He then discussed the applications of different types of lasers in medical physics. The second plenary talk was a very technical discussion of using an optical comb, and the future and current applications of such technology. The last talk was about lasers and the eye. This talk included information on laser eye surgery, focusing on LASIK, such as how to predict the effectiveness of the surgery and the safety procedures. Overall these sessions were very interesting, even though the later presentations were fairly technical.  
I attended many of the 30 minute talks, but the ones I enjoyed the most were Astrobiology and Planetary Science, Introducing Quantum Physics to Life Science Students, and Physics and Commercialization … What could be Better? The first discussed a lot of things, including a “death clock” showing how many hours life forms could survive on a planet. The next presentation discussed whether or not quantum mechanics could be introduced into life science physics classes. The reason for doing this would be to explain certain phenomena such as photosynthesis, which is a quantum effect. The last presentation talked about what physics majors do outside of physics for careers. The amount of things physics majors do is outstandingly diverse.

Some of the ten minute talks I attended were Experimental Evidence of Quantum Physics Model of Mind-Brain Interaction, The Great Physics Video Contest, and Facebook and YouTube in Introductory Project-based Physics for Architect Courses. These talks were hit or miss for me. I found the last presentation in the list the most interesting. It discussed having students put their class projects online via YouTube or Facebook.  The presenter found that the students put a lot of effort into the projects because of their visibility.

I also attended a panel discussion on social networking in physics. The panel, What is the Next Big Thing? Social Networking and Beyond, included the following brief talks: Society of Physics Students and Web 2.0: Strategies and Successes, Brave New World: Blogging and Beyond, Social Networking Among Teachers to Enhance Curriculum, and Facing Facebook: Social Media in and out of the Classroom. These discussions focused on the benefits and possible problems of using things like Facebook in the classroom. The general theme was that these new forms of social networking could be a valuable asset to teaching physics, but there are some reservations about using them too freely. Concerns were brought up such as teacher/student boundaries and how to use these media outlets for physics learning, not just socializing. I found this panel to be important for me because it discussed issues relevant to my job.

In addition to attending these sessions, I also went to a few other events. The First Timers’ Gathering was a breakfast where people who hadn’t been to an AAPT conference before could ask questions about what things were (such as a “cracker barrel” session) and the proper etiquette on leaving in the middle of a session. This was also a great place to meet people. Another fun event was the Physics of Vaudeville show. This was a hilarious display of physics comedy. The show included juggling, unicycling, and of course, great physics one-liners. A fitting end was a laser light show celebrating the 50th anniversary of the laser.

This was an amazing conference. From the plenary sessions to book give-a-ways to networking with fellow teachers, this conference had something for everyone.

Free 1-Year Membership in APS or AAPT
When you join SPS national as an undergraduate, you get free one-year membership in one of ten other physics societies, including the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).  

SPS Reporter Program
SPS national sends student reporters to most major AIP Member Society meetings, where they are treated like other members of the press. Many ambitious student reporters succeed in securing interviews with society leadership and prominent invited speakers on such occasions.

SPS Travel Awards
A limited number of grants, on the order of $200 each, are offered to help fund SPS members' travel to national meetings of AIP Member Societies holding a "SPS Session" co-organized by SPS and the Member Society.

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