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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Saturday kicks off seven-week lecture series

Around+60+high+school+students+gathered+for+Saturday+Morning+Physics+at+the+Mitchell+Physics+Building.
Photo by By Gracie Mock

Around 60 high school students gathered for Saturday Morning Physics at the Mitchell Physics Building.

Saturday mornings, meet physics.

Around 60 high school students gathered Saturday morning in the Mitchell Physics Building for Saturday Morning Physics — a seven-week lecture series that explored a method for gathering and controlling small molecules with light this  past weekend. 

Saturday Morning Physics, SMP, is in its 11th year and includes an hour-long lecture followed by a question and answer discussion session. The goal of the program is to give high school students insight into physics research, and to recruit more students to pursue the science in college and beyond. 

Emanuela Ene, physics lecturer and the speaker at Saturday’s event, began the session with a background discussion on photons and included examples of “optical tweezing” — instruments that use laser radiation pressure to trap small particles which can then be manipulated and measured — and some of the research on it performed by students in her lab.

“I shine the laser light, the laser light gives some energy for the vibrations of a molecule and then the molecule gives away the rest of the energy in another form, a different form … We study both photons that depart from the laser light,” Ene said.

“We can pull atoms by lasers.”

Isaac Sarver, physics graduate student and SMP volunteer said the lecture was mostly a broad overview of quantum optics.

“She talked about manipulating small objects with light and probing them with light using Raman spectroscopy to identify what’s going on, to identify the materials in the cells or whatever it is they’re looking at to figure out what’s going on,” Sarver said.  

Sarver said most of the students who attend are from the Brazos Valley, but a few come from farther schools in the Dallas area. Sarver said SMP aims to get these students interested in physics.

“This is more about outreach and trying to get people involved in physics, at least study physics and possibly come here,” Sarver said.

Ralf Rapp, professor of physics and a coordinator for SMP, said a lot of work goes into the program beginning in the fall semester as they reach out to faculty and colleagues to be lecturers.

“Once we have our pool of volunteers and chose them, we also try to arrange the lecture in a way that there’s sort of a thread through them so students can benefit more attending as many lectures as they can,” Rapp said.

Rapp said the goal of SMP is twofold — giving the general public an education in science and  giving high school students an insight into what research is about from top-notch researchers in an easy-to-understand way.

“We had several students where it really made a difference to them in the sense that they — based on that experience — said ,‘Wow, this is really great stuff, I want to become a scientist,’” Rapp said. “So that’s one thing, to open up a view to those kids on something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to understand or appreciate and trigger the interest.”

Rapp said attendance this year is around 60 per session but has reached nearly 200 in past years. He said this year was a slimmed- down version of previous years and did not include a coffee and donut break, demonstrations and other extra features which they believe used to draw the previous record-numbers. 

“So we believe that while lectures are considered the core of the program, the extra programs around the lectures — demos, coffee breaks, personal discussion — seems to be an attractive feature that makes a difference in attendance,” Rapp said.

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