Last weekend I and five of our female physics majors went to the Midwest Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This was the third time Wheaton has taken a group there, and the second time I have gone. It was again a great time! My students always seem to come away very pleased to have (finally) been around more women in physics, as they are often the only female in their physics classes here, or at best one of two or three. (As one other faculty member noted, sometimes female students even seem a bit uncomfortable being with other female physics majors! Apparently he had to tell his, “Go and talk to everyone! These are your people! You are finally around your people!”)
Major kudos goes to the NSF for providing significant financial support, which covered my students’ food and housing expenses, and to my department for covering mine as well as our transportation cost. Major kudos also goes to the organizing team at UIUC, including Kevin Pitts and Toni Pitts and their students.
While I was there, it was nice to connect with some Twitter folks. I met Arlene Modeste Knowles, who is the diversity coordinator for the APS (and is on Twitter as @APSDiversity.) It was also great to see Eric Martell (@drmagoo on Twitter), who teaches at Millikan University, after meeting him at an AAPT meeting awhile back. He made the heroic effort of meeting up for breakfast at 7am on a Sunday morning, although I must admit meeting at Courier Cafe made it worth the early wake up. (That’s a seriously good breakfast place if you need one in the area.)
The second week of the semester is about to close. There have been a couple of interesting questions from students that I wish I could spend more time on, such as investigating further double-slit versus single slit diffraction and better understanding the hows and whys of why bright fringes for one are equally spaced while they are not for the other, particularly how to demonstrate that to my students so they think about the physics more rather than defaulting to the geometry or equations. My thought is that if I had time to devote to writing a more extensive simulation that shows more wavefronts, etc., it would help them visualize it better. Most of what I seen somewhat caps off what is demonstrated a bit too early. But at least this year I’ve added into our classtime the use of the Ray Optics Demonstration Set. It has been, I think, very effective to demonstrate the behavior of the light rays more thoroughly before ever discussing the math that supports what is being observed. And let’s face it, “catching” the laser at the critical angle so that it bounces several times down a stick of the plastic is just plain fun to see.