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Lamar University tapped for Outstanding Society of Physics Students Chapter

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) at Lamar University was recently tapped an Outstanding SPS Chapter for 2016-2017, officials announced, in recognition of its activities in research, outreach and service.

The national honor reflects the level of activity at LU that has resulted in the student chapter being recognized for the third time in the last four years, said Cristian Bahrim, professor of physics and SPS chapter advisor. The chapter was tapped outstanding for the 2015-2016 and 2013-2014 school years.

The recognition is received by less than 10 percent of the physics society’s chapters each year. Only 72 of the society’s 813 chapters were honored this year. 

Student leaders“This award is a recognition for our efforts to be involved in all the student activities encouraged by the Society of Physics Students National Branch,” Bahrim said. “Our chapter was engaged in more than a dozen student presentations to local events such as the EXPO and Texas STEM conference, to state conferences at Rice and Baylor and other universities, and the national physics congress in San Francisco.”

“We hosted a regional physics conference with a large participation of research groups not only from Texas and neighboring states, but from as far away as New Jersey, Kansas, and Florida,” he said. “Also our SPS chapter was involved in a dozen of outreach events running booths with attractive physics demos to events such as the EXPO organized by the Workforce Solutions of SE Texas, the mini-CAST organized by Region 5 Educational Service Center, helped with the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Camp led by Dr. Ortilia Urbina, and participated in several on- and off-campus high school visits. This variety of activities created a strong case in favor of our chapter’s recognition.”

“We are consistently amazed each year at how much time, energy, and effort everyone devotes to their departments and local communities,” wrote Brad Conrad, director of the Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma National Branch in Maryland, in a congratulatory letter. He also recognized the role of chapter advisors stating that to have a group named an outstanding chapter is a testament to leadership skills and the ability to foster leadership among the students.

The Lamar SPS accomplishment will be listed on the SPS national website and in the winter issue of the organization’s magazine, The SPS Observer

2016-2017 SPS student leaders were: John Pickren, president, Suzanne Wheeler, vice president, Daniel Dove, secretary, and Jamie Stafford, treasurer. Incoming SPS student leaders are: Bonnie Ruten, president, Zakary Noel, vice president, Wheeler, secretary, Carlos Caballero, treasurer.

Students at PhysConThe SPS chapter was awarded a Chapter Research Award in 2016 for “Finding the Shape of a Glowing Object from Polarimetric Measurements,” a project that has engaged the efforts of five SPS members to date: Keeley Townley-Smith, Wheeler, Azam Nurul, Mark Worth, and Pickren, with results presented in several academic meetings and conferences including the last Quadrennial Physics Congress held in San Francisco in November 2016.

In Spring 2017, Noel applied for an SPS national internship and was accepted to a 10-week opportunity in Washington, D.C.

During the school year, three SPS students received research grants from LU’s Office of Undergraduate Research: Wheeler, Emily Ochoa, and Aaron Phillips. In addition, Wheeler and Phillips are participating this year in independent projects under the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, a TRIO program.

In April 2017, SPS students presented projects at the fourth annual Undergraduate Research EXPO, sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research. Wheeler presented on “Work in Progress: Finding the Composition of Selected Medical Plants through Spectroscopy of Absorption.” Noel presented a talk titled “A New Method to Determine the Shape of a Glowing Object: Departure from a Regular Signal Driven by Malus’ Law,” with co-authors Gabrianna Escamilla, Daniel Dove, Wheeler, and mentor Bahrim. Phillips spoke on “Thor Sequences,” and Nic Nikoloutsos presented on “The Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids in Alzheimer’s Disease.” Caballero gave a talk titled “Work in Progress: Materials Mechanical and Thermo-Electrical Properties’ Role in Aerospace Applications and their use for Active Flow Control.”

Students with posterIn addition to their own research pursuits, SPS chapter members engaged in numerous on-campus and off-campus science outreach opportunities during the year engaging college-age and younger students with the goal of inspiring them to pursue careers in the so-called STEM fields.

During the year, many of the chapter’s students participated in activities in the broader physics community attending and making presentations at regional and national conferences and workshops. The most significant participation of the chapter was at the Quadrennial Physics Congress (also known as PhysCON) in San Francisco. LU’s physics department sent six students to PhysCON, where Pickren, Wheeler, and Noel made poster presentations and engaged in a variety of opportunities to network and interact with other members of the physics community. Bahrim served as the faculty mentor for the research projects.

“To understand what it means to practice physics encompasses more than running experiments, solving equations, and proposing hypotheses,” said Zakary Noel. “To say that attending the 2016 Quadrennial Physics Congress was an enlightening and enriching experience would be a gross understatement of the magnitude of my appreciation, as well as a disrespect to those that set up the event and those that made it possible for me to attend.”

Suzanne Wheeler added “PhysCON was a once in a lifetime experience. It was a whirlwind weekend, and absolutely amazing. Not only was I able to travel to a new place and experience a new city, I got to make invaluable connections with scientists and fellow students.”

Student at Golden Gate“Everything about PhysCon was great!” said Carlos Caballero. “From visiting the Stanford National Accelerator Center (SLAC) where I got the chance to interact with staff scientist and individuals partaking in their post-doctoral experience to having breakfast with a scientist, the thing felt sort of surreal.

“During the visit I had the chance to talk with distinguished staff scientist and principal investigator at the Stanford Pulse Institute, Dr. Uwe Bergmann, who told me about all the wonderful things going on at SLAC and even encourage me to contact him to learn more about possible internship opportunities!” Caballero added. “In breakfast with my scientist, my peers and I got to sit down and visit with Senior Science Advisor for The Optical Society, Dr. Michael Duncan.”