MCLA’s Society of Physics Students wins national recognition

MCLA at PhysCon 2019MCLA Society of Physics Students with Associate Professor of Physics Kebra Ward (center) at the annual Society of Physics Students Conference in 2019. After attending the conference, MCLA's SPS student leaders planned lots of physics-related activities on campus, garnering them recognition from the national SPS association.

MCLA’s chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) has been named a “distinguished” chapter by the national SPS association, recognized for its active student leadership and slate of on-campus (and now virtual) activities.

MCLA SPS board members Kiah Da Viega ’21, Amalia Badohu ’21, and Robert Leonard ’23, all physics majors (Badhou is a double major in physics and chemistry), have been working on virtual programming for the spring semester after spending time in 2019 and 2020 organizing in-person events. “It made me feel empowered,” said Da Viega, the chapter president. “Even though we've been struggling, the Nationals recognized that and rewarded us for our efforts. It made me feel like what we did and what we continue to do has purpose.”

The National Society of Physics Students is dedicated to enriching students’ exposure to physics through local, regional, and national events; there are active chapters of SPS on college campuses across the country. SPS also holds an annual conference, PhysCon, where students in SPS chapters can meet and network. In 2019, Da Viega, Badohu, and Leonard advocated for the MCLA Student Government Association to fund their chapter’s first-ever trip to PhysCon. “We met so many other schools and made many connections with physics professionals and awesome ideas to bring back to school,” said Da Viega.

After attending the conference, SPS students designed a “Science at Night” series to introduce physics concepts to students in other majors, with activities like making oobleck (a mixture of cornstarch and water that seems to simultaneously be a liquid and a solid) and snacks like liquid nitrogen ice cream. They had also planned other events, like a STEM carnival co-hosted by other science clubs on campus, but the pandemic threw a wrench in those plans.

Now, as the spring 2021 semester gets underway, they’re connecting students to physics virtually. “We’re planning to offer virtual science at night events that use home ingredients everyone has available to them,” said Badhou, “as well as making our Instagram page more active and interactive for our followers.” They’re also working on a newsletter that examines the physics of superheroes, and putting more energy into outreach to make sure their peers know about their events.

Meanwhile, the SPS recognition continues to be a reminder that these efforts are seen and appreciated by the wider physics community. “It is an honor to see our chapter being recognized alongside schools like Harvard and MIT,” said Leonard. “The award is an encouraging sign. It shows that our efforts have been well spent so far, and will help inform our plans for the future.”