To any average student, the Society of Physics Students may seem like just another club at the University of Tennessee; they have weekly meetings, they have semester-long goals to achieve and they make try to get their name out to the student body. But SPS is much more tight-knit than the casual observer would realize. Their meetings are laid-back and consist mainly of planning, studying and helping each other with homework.
“We’re part of a national organization, the Society of Physics Students,” said Louis Varriano, the club’s president. “The goal of SPS is to engage students, especially undergraduates, interested in physics.”
The club not only seeks to promote physics, but also to engage students who are new to the major. Varriano said that the ultimate goal of the club is to promote an understanding and appreciation for science. “Our goal is to spread a knowledge of physics.”
Although their activities can sometimes be as laid-back as helping each other with homework, they also engage in events, outreach and semester-long projects. One new project is the pumpkin drop.
“This past fall, we did a pumpkin drop,” Varriano said. “We have a nitrogen tank downstairs… and we decided to freeze some pumpkins in nitrogen for several days, and then we dropped them off an 80-foot forklift. It was a great success.”
SPS is hoping to make the pumpkin drop even bigger this semester, and is looking to get a grant that would help cover the costs of the event.
But perhaps the biggest outreach project tackled by the club is the “Saturday Science Club” that Varriano describes as a “science education program started at Pond Gap Elementary.” Once a month, members from the club go to the elementary school to do science activities with the students to try and engage them at an early age.
When not going to Pond Gap Elementary, SPS sets up demonstrations around UT’s campus.
“On the walkway, or around Neyland Stadium on football games, or in Market Square, we’ll go out there on Saturdays and just show people something cool about science,” said Amos Manneschmidt, the club’s treasurer. “We’re constantly expanding that library of demos to make it more compelling.”
They also have a subgroup, called “Women in Physics.” Brooke Carter, the Special Events Coordinator for SPS, elaborated on what the subgroup does.
“The national average for women in physics as far as undergrads go is 20 percent, but at UT, it’s only 10 percent,” said Carter. “We realized there is a need for a group where women could come together in physics and just sort of talk about issues we’re having, and really just have a support system.”
The group was started in fall of 2015, and focuses on outreach to show the public that there are women who are majoring in physics despite the low percentage of them in the major.
Although members of the club have different ideas on what the best project is, all of the members could agree on the one aspect that makes them special; the connection they all share through physics.
“SPS is really a social organization because studying physics is kind of really isolating,” said Brandon Barker, the club’s historian. “To be able to come to a place like this, to be with people who have similar experiences, who experience similar problems, to overcome the same things that you do is really comforting.”
Carrie Elliott, a junior with the club, chimed in to sum everything up; “We’re just a bunch of nerds, basically!”
Featured Image by Benjamin Webb
Edited by Jessica Carr