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Student Storyteller: Relating physics to the real world

By Claire McLellan (’12)
Claire McLellan

Wake Forest’s “Pro Humanitate” spirit has emphasized the importance of connecting the classroom to the community. Being a physics major, the classroom can seem impractical and hard to connect to the outside world. I often do homework sets on particles going at a relativistic speed on the nanometer scale.  Because physics studies the world though equations, the topic can be difficult to describe meaningfully.

When physics professor and WFU Society of Physics Students (SPS) advisor Dr. Eric Carlson asked the SPS officers if we would be interested in organizing a zone conference for our region, I was enthusiastic about the opportunity. This conference presented a way for me to bring my passion outside of the classroom and the laboratory to other aspiring physicists and the community at large, which is what Wake Forest has been preparing me to do for the past four years.

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Join Wake Forest’s Society of Physics Students in welcoming keynote speaker Nobel Laureate Dr. William Philips. His address on Friday, April 20, at 8 p.m. in Brendle Recital Hall, “Time, Einstein, and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe,” is free and open to the public. No registration is necessary.

When discussing possible keynote speakers for the event, the SPS officers wanted someone who could communicate an advancement of physics in a coherent manner; Nobel Laureate Dr. William Phillips was at the top of our list.  For science to improve society, a researcher should not just push the boundaries of knowledge but have a greater purpose to the research. Dr. Phillips’, whose work is in laser cooling, research has been the gateway to Bose-Einstein condensate and advances in quantum computing.  Simply put, his work has provided a means to advance technology. I had the chance of meeting Dr. Phillips last summer during a trip to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Scientists are trained to communicate with jargon and equations, but Dr. Phillips presented his research in a meaningful way.  I am excited that his upcoming address at Wake Forest will cover both his work and how seemingly irrelevant predictions by Einstein have affected and advanced today’s technology, which are often not explained.

It is an honor that he is coming to the event.  During his visit, he also wanted to interact with the students at the event to encourage aspiring young researchers. For conference attendees there will be a time to meet with Dr. Phillips over the course of the weekend. A public talk will give the community of Winston-Salem and Wake Forest an opportunity to connect with physics more personally. Anyone who wants insight in how basic physics research can affect society and advancement in technology is encouraged to attend. (Given that it is a Friday night at 8:00, feel free to bring dates to the event.)

Seriously, organizing this conference has been a defining moment of my Wake Forest career as I get to share my passion for physics with others. Next year, as I start graduate school for a physics doctorate, I want to continue keeping the greater community informed of advances in physics as well as my own research.

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