(Pictured: Florida Tech students at the SPS Zone 6 meeting at UCF in April 2013. Left to right, back to front: Perry Bird, James Havu, James Johnson, John Robertson, Chris Bahr, Ari Fainstain, Elizabeth Starling, Brooke Adams, Alissa Oppenheimer.)
The Society of Physics Students (SPS) national chapter breaks into zones across the country, and all of the zones have annual meetings. Florida falls into Zone 6 and this year the chapter meeting happened to be at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, so some of Florida Tech’s SPS members had the privilege to attend. The meeting went from Friday to Sunday, but we were only able to attend on Saturday; nevertheless, we were able to listen to three physics discussions and participate in the student poster contest.
This year’s Zone 6 meeting, which included chapters from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Puerto Rico, had over 100 attendees — a record for the Zone 6 chapter! The first event was the guest speakers. My favorite was the first talk, “The Real Worlds-Wide-Web,” by Dr. Tristan Hubsch. Dr. Hubsch discussed the idea that our world may just be one of many, many others in a giant matrix. To try and prove this idea, many scientists are trying to find a way to connect the really small (quantum physics) with the really large (general relativity) and one of the more common ways is with string theory. One of the greatest problems with string theory, however, is it requires at a minimum eight to ten dimensions, which our world does not have. Dr. Hubsch explained one possible solution could be if we model our universe kind of like a crease in space-time; a crease would not need nearly as many dimensions. This would also explain why we cannot go to the other dimensions, because we don’t have enough energy to get ourselves out of the crease. Another explanation for the number of dimensions could be that we don’t realize when we move from one dimension to another. He made an analogy to an ant walking around on a salt atom (a model is pictured below). The ant could walk from a chloride particle (yellow) to a sodium particle (green) and then reach another chloride, but may mistake the second chloride as the first. That way the ant thinks it has gone in a circle and ended up in the same place it began, when really it is still going through other dimensions without realizing it.
The second talk was called “SUSY & The Lord of the Ring” by Jim Gates. The ring in this instance is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC accelerates particles and takes pictures as they collide in the hunt for the Higgs boson, a particle that has only been theorized until last year. Because the Higgs boson decays so quickly, the only way to determine if it is present is to look for the release of photons or leptons. The search for the Higgs boson is an example of the quest to prove the idea of supersymmetry (aka SUSY). If this can be proved, then nature may predict the existence of new forms of energy and matter that take on alternate versions of known particle physics. For example, the muon would alternately be the smuon, a W particle would be the wino, a Z particle would be a zino, a Higgs would be a Higgsino, etc .
The final talk was called “Paradoxes in Special Relativity” by Dr. Costas Efthimiou. One of the biggest confusions with special relativity is the idea that different observers can see the same situation differently, depending on various conditions. For example, a horizontal bar falling to the ground will appear to fall parallel to the ground to someone who is not moving, yet if someone else saw the same bar while moving away from it, the bar would appear to fall at an angle to the ground. He also went over the misconception that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. It is true that as far as we know, information cannot be sent at a speed faster than light, but we have observed things such as the pulsar in the Crab Nebular, which sweeps across Earth at 1018 times the speed of light!
After the discussions, students set up posters with their own research results. First place went to the poster titled, “Proposal for the Laser Cooling of Antihydrogen Atoms,” which was about a group of students experimenting with various ways to cool atoms with a laser. Because of the one-dimensional access limitations of their equipment, a problem positioning the atoms occurred. Nevertheless, they predicted the atoms should be able to cool at approximately 20 mK. Second place went to “Gravitational Radiation resulting from Binary Black Hole Collisions.” This research created a model to better help observers find where black hole collisions have occurred by using parameters found in the mode spectrum of a black hole merger, such as a decaying sinusoid signal with a specific decay time and angular frequency. Third place went to “The Sensing of and Inhibition of Mold Fungi using Biosynthesized Nanoparticles.” The woman presenting the poster was very impressive, majoring in physics, chemistry and biology if I remember correctly; she explained to me that silver nanoparticles had experimentally shown to prevent mold from growing. Her next move was to find a way to detect mold formation early enough to prevent major renovations.
The meeting was a great learning experience and a nice way to meet other aspiring physicists. Good job to those FIT students who submitted research posters: Perry Bird, John Robertson and Alissa Oppenheimer. It was fantastic to see all the various types of research available to undergraduates in this day and age; just goes to prove everyone can make a difference in the world, even those still in school!