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2003 SPS National Interns
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Stacey Elizabeth Sude Stacey Elizabeth Sude
Northern Virginia Community College, VA

Internship: SPS Outreach/MRSEC
Online Journal
Week of August 1, 2006 Week of July 11, 2006 Week of June 20, 2006
Week of July 25, 2006 Week of July 4, 2006 Week of June 13, 2006
Week of July 18, 2006 Week of June 27, 2006  
Date: August 1, 2003

Week Eight
It was Ashley’s and my last full week here and it was a frantic hustle to wrap up our project and a test in logistics. We had to hammer out lesson plans to accompany the items in the SOCK and I had to complete the ordering process for the light activities. Donna Hammer, Assistant Director of MRSEC’s educational outreach program, who committed to helping fund the SOCKs, mentioned that money was limited; I knew I had to be diligent about finding the least expensive solution to our light source needs. This made ordering a bit complex and time-consuming.

Dan provided me with a spreadsheet of information about vendors and cost for the variable intensity lamp parts, but ordering still proved to be a daunting task. I wanted to find the cheapest price for the parts and the fewest number of vendors, so that the parts would arrive around the same time. Timing was certainly an issue, since there was only a week left for the internship and I would be starting school shortly thereafter. For these reasons, I waded through website after website, trying to match the parts Dan listed with those offered by other retailers, retailers who also boasted shorter shipping times or lower prices. My eyes went a little numb, but Dan commended me for “excellent detective work.”

I also had to make some final decisions about additional light sources I wanted to include in the SOCK to flesh out the spectral scavenger hunt activity. I looked at laser manufacturers, educational retailers, rave light shops, glow light shops, phosphorescent sign wholesalers, etc. I used my discerning (and numb again) detective eye to find the cheapest and most convenient versions of the materials I thought would make the exploration of light fun and unique. I think the final choices will be the bases for intriguing lessons in light and spectroscopy.

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Date: July 25, 2003

Week Seven
This week I have been intermittently helping out with the second session of Summer Girls, as well as (finally!) making progress on the SOCK. Our time here is winding down and Ashley and I want to ensure that we make a thorough contribution to the project. I must say that networking has been a priceless commodity in my efforts toward this end. Most of all, I have to thank Dan Margulies, of the University of Maryland’s Physics Lecture Demonstration Facility for his expertise and unexpected devotion to my cause.

Before Gary left for vacation and business last week, he charged me with the task of ordering supplies for and assembling variable intensity light sources for the light portion of the SOCK. He suggested that I purchase battery holders and batteries, bulb holders and bulbs, 1 F capacitors, and alligator clips in order to construct the lamps. This week, I began searching the web for such accessories. Little did I know that the information he had given me would not help me to sort through the many choices and pages of spec’s available at such electronics megasites as Mouser and McMaster Carr. Digging through the storage closets of my mind for some pragmatic knowledge of electronic devices, I returned only an introductory-physics-text image of a parallel-lines capacitor connected to a zigzag resistor and a voltage source. Yes, the theory is sound, but how do you actually make it happen? I sent out a mass email to the MRSEC fellows to try to collect some advice. Dan came to the rescue.

Dan came up with a slightly different and less expensive method for creating a variable intensity light and set out about his lab to find parts to experiment with. He even stopped by Radio Shack on his way home to find a part that wasn’t available in the UM physics department. The result was a prototype for what will actually be in the SOCK: a cute contraption composed of a 25W resistor, a tiny, low-voltage bulb, and a battery pack, activated by the turn of a knob. I was so excited I carried it around the office and randomly selected people to take a look at it through the diffraction glasses. Dan is truly the man and I will be seeing him a lot in the coming weeks as we begin to build these things.

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Date: July 18, 2003

Week Six

Camp continues. I was able to try out the spectral scavenger hunt on my eighth grade girls on Monday. I used the same light sources I borrowed from UM's physics demo stock for the GK-12 seminar last week. The spectroscopy lesson fit in nicely with the curriculum because the girls had been studying light and optics during the morning session of the camp. The activity really seemed to generate free inquiry among the students. The girls were comparing their observations and working as a group to identify spectra. They became innovative in their play. Some of the girls realized that they could clearly see diffraction of the lasers I provided if they removed the glasses from their faces and shined the laser through them and onto a flat surface. They even directed both the red and green lasers through the glasses simultaneously and watched the effects. Whether for entertainment or science, they were learning to tinker and wonder at the variety of consequences. During the conclusion of the lesson, one girl cited different energies and wavelengths as explanations for the change in the spectrum of a variable temperature bulb. I was impressed with the ideas the girls came up with when asked potent questions.

I learned a lesson myself on Monday. Some time during the course of the scavenger hunt, a red laser went missing. (Thankfully, it wasn't the pricy green one.) I was inclined to avoid dealing with the incident, but this response didn't seem adequate. Though the red laser is not an expensive or rare item, I felt I needed to make a statement about the unfortunate event to the students. I had to figure out a way to convey the importance of respecting other people's property without inadvertently accusing any number of innocent bystanders. Bridget and I decided to conduct an annonymous group survey, in which each student was to write down anything she knew about the disappearance of the laser on a scrap paper and hand it in to us. We told everyone that we would like to see the laser returned, but that we would not hold anything against anyone with information. Unfortunately, the survey was not fruitful, but I think we made a point, which I now recognize is the most significant goal of the disciplinary action. I am learning more every day about teaching and handling students in this age group.

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Date: July 11, 2003

Week Five

Camp started this week. I've got twenty-five or so eighth grade girls in an afternoon roller coaster workshop, which is part of the Summer Girls science day camp at the University of Maryland. One of the other MRSEC GK-12 fellows, Bridget, is co-instructing the roller coaster workshop with me. All of the instructors are women, chosen as such to provide female mentorship for the students. We try to keep the girls from talking on the phone with their boyfriends and get them interested in science, if only for a few hours. It is a challenge, but we do have some good channels through which we can communicate. The girls keep a daily journal in which they write openly about their reactions to the camp's activities and the instructors respond to each journal entry.

Bridget and I have given lessons and demonstrations on kinetic and potential energy, centripetal force, gravity, and friction. To illustrate aspects of energy and centripetal force, we rolled a ball along a roller-coaster-shaped track and reminded the girls that they would have to keep these concepts in mind when constructing their own roller coasters out of K nex. To indicate the universality of the force of gravity, we used free-falling objects. Each student dropped two objects of varying sizes and shapes and recorded their observations about the objects landing. Their hypotheses about the results; ranging from the effect of the height from which the objects were dropped, the respective weights of the objects, and the objects reactions to air; were shared with the class and then subjected to further testing. The girls all participated and seemed very engaged. For friction, we employed a fun, hands-on demo; the students compared the difficulty of pulling a classmate seated on a rubber surface with that of pulling her on a smooth spandex surface. The girls immediately acknowledged the role of friction in the phenomena they witnessed, without coaxing. It was rewarding to see them spontaneously thinking in scientific terms about their observations.

I also had a chance this week to try out ideas for the SOCK. During the GK-12 seminar on Wednesday, Ashley presented the cylinder-dropping experiment to the other fellows and I presented a light lesson. The focus of my lesson was a spectral scavenger hunt. I collected various spectral sources from UM s immense physics demo stock, from mercury vapor tubes to variable intensity filaments, threw in some glow sticks and lasers, and let the fellows loose with diffraction grating glasses to search for substances based on continuous and discrete spectra. The scavenger hunt was the basis for a brief discussion of spectroscopy as an astronomer's tool, used to determine the chemical composition and temperature of planetary bodies. I think it was successful, both amusing and meaningful. Next week I will test the lesson on my eighth graders.

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Date: July 4, 2003

Week Four

I attended some very interesting tours this week. On Monday, Justin and Jeff provided the other SPS interns with a tour of NIST. We were able to get an in-depth look at the Semiconductor Electronics Division where Justin works, as well as take a gander at the Synchrotron Ultraviolet Radiation Facility. The scientist that supervises Justin’s work, John Suehle, gave us a good description of the Semiconductor Division’s major projects, including the problem of building faster, more efficient circuits that can also withstand the wear-and-tear of time. One of the department’s most interesting research areas is the Nanoelectronic Device Metrology program, an aspect of which is the effort to implement molecules in electronic circuits. The synchrotron lab is another technological marvel that we were introduced to at NIST. The synchrotron is able to produce stable radiation from infrared to soft x-ray spectral regions. It is used for such functions as testing the viability of space-bound electronic components, which would be exposed to high levels of radiation outside of Earth.

Another tour that I enjoyed participating in was one arranged by the MRSEC GK-12 program leaders. Ashley and I, along with the other GK-12 fellows, explored the University of Maryland’s Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility. The facility is essentially a giant swimming pool used to test the reliability of space suits and robotic devices in a near-zero gravity environment, like that of interstellar space. Some of the robotic systems being assessed would be used to aid astronauts in fixing damaged space equipment, equipment that might otherwise have to be completely replaced at a cost of millions of dollars. The facility seemed like it might be of interest to children, given the appeal of robots, and the fellows are considering bringing kids enrolled in GK-12 courses to the lab to expose them to space research. It also appeared to be an enjoyable place to work; some of the undergraduates employed there mentioned that they occasionally jump in the tank for fun.

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Date: June 27, 2003

Week Three

This week was playtime. Ashley and I spent most of the week drawing and playing with toys. It was fun, but not purposeless; we were interested in investigating possibilities for the SOCK. We narrowed down options to lessons in light and the cylinder-dropping experiment. Considerations for the cylinder-dropping activity included the material of the cylinders and the characteristics that ought to be varied and compared vs. those that should be controlled. We talked about using existing cylinders, such as toilet paper rolls, or constructed cylinders, such as cut PVC tubing. The prospects for the light lesson proved to be more numerous and complicated.

There are several viable ideas for the light portion of the SOCK, many of which have been explored in previous year’s SOCKs. The lessons could focus on the properties of light as waves and particles or the observation of various materials’ spectra. Gary and I spent quite a while trying to reach a purely qualitative understanding of some light phenomena, in order to devise a means to convey new concepts to children. We played with a tray of water to try to visualize the change in a wave’s propagation through various slit sizes, forming passages between 2 sponges. We tried using spandex in the same respect. We also toyed with the idea of illustrating constructive and destructive interference at a level eighth graders could understand. Gary tirelessly indulged my qualitative questions with tedious sketches of light geometry. What an amazing teacher!

One of the main points of progress in developing the light portion of the SOCK was the receipt of three prisms that Ashley and I mail-ordered. It was Christmas in June when we opened the box. Ashley and Gary and I spent much of the rest of the day in a dark conference room with lasers, LED pens, diffraction glasses, and the prisms, testing the feasibility of several demonstrations and having a blast with rainbows. Unfortunately, the prisms were somewhat difficult to use to get a clear spectrum. Lasers seemed to be the best light source to emphasize refraction.

Outreach work is great. I like to think it’s serious; an adult must think like a kid in order to understand how kids learn and what they are capable of learning at a particular stage. It’s also secretly fun. My next order of business is to order some slinkies, a very serious physics tool, mind you.

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Date: June 20, 2003

Week Two

It was another busy week of listening and experiencing. The highlights included picking the brains of people I work with here at ACP and promoting AIP's NSF-funded educational programs at the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) exhibition on Capitol Hill. Exercises in mingling and making contacts abound.

On Monday, Ashley and I stopped by the office of the Senior Government Relations Liaison for AIP, Richard Jones. Dick talked to us about his policy career, ranging from his desperate search for a staff position on the Hill with a political science degree under his belt to his current position as an intermediary between physicists and government. He described the advantages and disadvantages of working under people that had different political orientations from his own and how this gave him a wider perspective on politics and dealing with people in general. He also explained the importance of the staff member’s role. The staff member is expected to have a broad knowledge of various pertinent issues, from foreign affairs to the science budget because he or she is often the last person to brief a congressman on pending bills before the representative casts his vote. We hoped to intercept some of these people at the CNSF exhibition.

Ashley and I also talked with Alicia Torres, Director of Media and Government Relations for AIP. She gave us insight into the interactions between AIP and major media networks, as well as government. One of AIP’s primary media projects at this time are the Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science (DBIS) reports; short, broadcast-ready science news reports that are aired by local news programs and are aimed at increasing the public’s appreciation and awareness of current science. Alicia also showed us some of the methods used by AIP to get the attention of government. AIP periodically sends congressmen and senators informational packets about the importance of science and science education accompanied by conceptually intriguing physics toys.

On Tuesday, Ashley, Melissa, and I packed up a tri-fold display illustrating five of AIP’s educational projects and headed for the Capitol. After brief difficulty locating the building and the convention room, we set up our display and waited anxiously as bottles of wine and platters of hors d’oeuvres began to arrive. When the convention got going, we found ourselves leaping on everyone who came to our booth, delineating the merits of the various projects. We advertised PTRA and Phystec, initiatives to improve the pedagogy of physics teachers; Spin-Up TYC, an effort to increase the quality of community college physics departments; and ComPADRE and Physics Central, comprehensive websites that provide information about physics for physicists, teachers, students, or the general public. After a while we began to relax and adopt a more conversational style to convey our message. Some of the notable people we attracted during the exhibition were NSF officials, staffers for congressmen, and representatives on the House Committee on Science, including Vernon Ehlers (R), who has a Ph.D. in physics and is sympathetic to our cause. We learned later that eight congressmen attended the event.

This week was an opportunity to learn about and directly participate in the policy efforts of the science community. It was an investigation of the communication paths between science, government, and the public.

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Date: June 13, 2003

First Week

Wow! What an amazing week! All of us interns covered many places, faces, and bases. On Monday, we all met people from the various AIP societies during our orientation and then split up to familiarize ourselves with our respective primary internship positions. Ashley and I stayed at the American Center for Physics that afternoon and we spent the rest of the week at ACP and the University of Maryland's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) learning about our many activities for the summer.

Ashley and I were advised that one of the first items on our agenda would be to help develop this year's SPS Outreach Catalyst Kit (SOCK). With Gary White's guidance, we began to investigate and evaluate previous years' SOCKs to determine the best characteristics to implement in our version of the kit. We were also introduced to another of our early projects, the representation of AIP on Capitol Hill next week at the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF). There we will be presenting the fruits of National Science Foundation grants that have been used for some of AIP's educational programs. We hope to successfully promote these programs to Congress and staffers.

In addition to our work with AIP, Ashley and I became acquainted with our duties at MRSEC, where we will be involved in the GK-12 program. Ashley learned that her time and talents would be applied to a science summer camp where she will be engaging kids in physical concepts. I was assigned to a similar outreach effort for eighth grade girls. I will also be participating in a workshop dedicated to advanced science-and-math minority students. Ashley and I carry the official title of Undergrad Fellow in the GK-12 program.

Just for fun, Ashley, Melissa, and I attended the AGU's Conference on increasing Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences here at ACP this week, a meeting that Phillip was instrumental in organizing. We were able to listen to several interesting talks on the under-representation of certain groups in the sciences, as well as give our own input during small group break-out sessions. All of us; Ashley, Melissa, Phillip, and I; presented the outcome of these discussions before the members of the conference. In addition to the conference being a public speaking opportunity, it was a chance for us to mingle with people who are established in fields that we may be considering for ourselves. I sucked in the wisdom of two female scientists who attended the conference; Dr. Claudia Alexander, a project director at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dr. Susana Deustua, a satellite developer for the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

Overall, the internship is off to a very active and exciting start. I feel privileged to work in such a beautiful, comfortable building at ACP and to be amongst so many interesting and caring people. I have never been exposed to the mechanisms of the science, education, and policy worlds in such an intimate and mentored way.

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