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!”
Laura Brown, advertising operations manager for Politico and University of Tennessee alumna, came to start off Social Media Week 2016 on Monday, March 28.
The lecture centered around how social media is entangled in modern life, especially in the realm of politics. The speech touched on varied topics including politics, net neutrality, the ethics of nonstop coverage of Donald Trump and how the newer and older generations differ on how they consume news.
“I’m here today to talk to you a little about how the internet is disrupting politics,” Brown said. “The only thing predictable about the 2016 election so far is how unpredictable it is.”
Speaking on the current presidential election, Brown talked primarily about Trump and Bernie Sanders, two candidates who she said are disrupting the political norm. She also mentioned how Ted Cruz, another Republican candidate for president, is utilizing social media better than any other candidate.
“The Cruz campaign has hired a team of behavioral psychologists to take your internet persona and map it out,” Brown said. “They use this data to determine which message you might be most receptive to.”
Brown said the Cruz campaign uses three separate classifications for potential voters: true believers, stoic traditionalists and temperamental conservatives. The campaign has a different message tailored for potential voters who may respond better to one of those three messages over the other two based on their social media presence.
She also explained to the audience how social can take action against something in the same way it shares viral videos and images. Brown said that when net neutrality was introduced, social media mobilized to keep it as a relevant discussion, citing the reaction to be similar to the “blue-and- black or white-and-gold” dress that went viral around the same time.
Brown also noted the difference between the generations and media consumption. She said that the newer generation is primarily consuming media through social networks whereas older generations are still relying mainly on cable news and newspapers.
Specifically when referring to Trump, Brown also touched on how news outlets cover the Republican frontrunner.
“The media is covering Donald Trump because people are clicking on stories about Donald Trump. On the other hand, people keep on rapidly clicking on stories about Donald Trump because the media keeps on covering Donald Trump.” Brown said, comparing the situation to a “chicken or the egg” narrative.
Brown also offered her thoughts on the election, specifically comparing it to the elections in 2008 and 2012; “Believe me when I tell you that this is going to be one of the most studied elections in American history.”
[title_box title=”Students petition against defunding the Office of Diversity, Inclusion”]
Members of #UTDiversityMatters, a coalition of students who advocate for campus diversity, asked both students and faculty to sign a petition and participate in a phone bank in Hodges Library on Thursday, March 3.
This action comes as a response to Tennessee lawmakers’ unanimous vote on Wednesday, March 2, to defund UT’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The vote stems from Tennessee Republican leaders calling on state lawmakers to defund the office back in December of 2015 and comes days after concerned students met with President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek about diversity on campus.
“This is about my existence on this campus,” said Kristen Godfrey, a graduate student. “I’m tired of people asking me ‘why is diversity important to you?’ ‘Why should there be an office of diversity and inclusion?’ This is 2016, it’s time to move away from that. It’s time to say ‘Why isn’t there more diversity and inclusion?’ ‘Why isn’t there more funding?'”
Godfrey and the members of #UTDiversityMatters intend to get as many signatures as possible from students and faculty. They also participated in making phone calls to members of the state legislature, senators and state representatives.
A pamphlet distributed by members of the group states, “The Office of Diversity and Inclusion includes support for students of color, LGBTQ+ students and student veterans.” It also explains that #UTDiversityMatters is “comprised of and represents students of color, disabled students, LGBTQ+ students and all marginalized students on campus.”
The proposed defunding of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion comes weeks after the University of Tennessee made national headlines for being named in a sexual assault lawsuit.
“I think it all has to do with an unsafe campus. An unsafe campus for women, for sexual assault survivors, for marginalized students, and I think that UT is not showing that they are representative of a diverse and inclusive campus.” said Godfrey.
Godfrey said that to her, students generally feel that UT does not try to promote a safe campus, and there is fear among women, minorities and LGBT members.
“I think at this point in time, we all really need each other,” Godfrey said. “All marginalized students really need each other to support each other.”
[title_box title=”UT alumna speaks on climate change at science forum”]
Melissa R. Allen of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory spoke for the 2015 UT Science Forum “Climate Variability and Change: What Fundamental Science and Modeling Tell Us.”
Allen opened by talking about a common debate between climate scientists and detractors; whether or not human activity causes the climate variability that has been observed.
“The scientists, in all of the observations they’d seen and all the modeling they had done worldwide, had come to the conclusion that warming was unequivocal,” Allen said.
To expand on her statement, Allen went on to describe what climate change is.
“We have an energy balance between the Earth and space. The sun’s radiation is coming in as light. Light color or bright color, it will just reflect the light back into space,” Allen said. “The darker surfaces will absorb that radiation and then they re-radiate infrared radiation or long-wave radiation, and that gets trapped then by greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.”
Allen also stated that some greenhouse gasses are good, and that there would not be life on Earth without them.
“Antarctica goes through this cycle every year, that some melts and some melts and some grows back,” Allen said. “The issue, though, is are we losing more ice than we’re gaining?”
She then directed the audience’s attention towards a new study that suggested that the ice caps were gaining more ice than they were losing.
“Turns out, though, that the study that had been done was looking at data from 1992 to 2008, and really all that study said was that increase in ice was constant. What it did not say was that the rate of the decrease in ice was increasing,” Allen said.
Allen closed her lecture by likening the climate change denial to that of an unhealthy individual who refuses to change their lifestyle.
“If we ignore this, we’re kind of like ignoring a doctor that tells us that if we don’t shape up and lose weight and stop smoking, we’re going to have a heart attack,” Allen said. “And we tell the doctor ‘I’m sorry, you’re a heretic because you can’t tell me when I’m going to have a heart attack.'”
[title_box title=”Club Week: Student Space Technology Association creates out of this world projects”]
Every Tuesday evening in Hodges Library, students can be found on all floors either studying, working on projects or just hanging out with friends. However, members of the Student Space Technology Association at UT can be found working on peculiar projects such as high-altitude balloons or rocketry. These students belong to a club that primarily focuses on space and engineering.
Also known as the Volunteer Space Program, this club gives students the opportunity to work as a team in order to complete a variety of projects. They work on anything from building rockets and weather balloons to designing a space station while working out the logistics of how to get it into orbit around the Earth.
“Our primary function is an engineering team,” said Grayson Hawkins, one of the group’s key members. “We design and build space-related technology.”
Since its creation, the Student Space Technology Association has gained 42 members with all types of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) majors being represented by both undergraduates and graduate students alike.
The group is currently working on their last project for the semester; a rocket that will, according to Hawkins, use “… a PVC/concrete G-class motor that will burn KN/SO (Potassium Nitrate/Sorbital) solid fuel.” The rocket is being made entirely from scratch, as well. Although the designs are in the early stages as of now, they are confident that they will finish it by the end of the semester.
They also have a competition team that will be entering a NASA mission architecture design competition where they are tasked with creating an Earth-independent space station using a projection of NASA’s current budget. More information about this competition can be found at their website.
One aspect of their club structure that they take pride in is their allowance of non-executive members to be given the opportunity to lead certain projects they work on. This way, they help give students the ability to learn how to lead their own projects while gaining experience necessary for future projects.
They also stress the need for advocating space as a reachable frontier. On their website, the club states that, “Within the past few years, it has become more and more evident that humankind is within centuries of becoming a multiplanetary species. Aside from devoting our own lives to achievement and the progression of space technology, the Student Space Technology Association’s greatest legacy will come from the inspiration of the next generation of engineers, mathematicians and physicists.”
“Everyone is enthusiastic and passionate about the rapidly growing U.S. space/satellite industry and about NASA and advancing the space frontier,” Hawkins said. “Real fun stuff for space nerds.”