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Physics Department Creates Engaged Students and Alums

By Meghan Dusek
FEB. 19, 2007--Sir Ernest Rutherford said that in science there is only physics; the rest is stamp collecting. While the proposition maybe not entirely true, the UW-River Falls physics program has been garnering a lot of national attention in recent years. And none of it is related to stamp collecting.

The UWRF physics department has the distinction of being within the top 10 percent of the nation in terms of physics degrees awarded, according to James Madsen, chair of the department.

In addition, the UWRF chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) was recently award its eighth Outstanding SPS Chapter award in nine years and also lept into second place as the second largest chapter in the country. Combine that with the fact that the department has several notable alumni, including retired NASA astronaut Daniel Brandenstein, and student research and study opportunities in places like Antarctica, and it creates a winning formula.

Madsen and Professor Earl Blodgett see a link between the activities of the department and SPS and the success of the program.

The American Institute of Physics recently contacted Madsen as part of its research into how thriving physics departments operate, and asked for an account of the factors that go into UWRF's highly effective program. The report to AIP cites the sense of community among physics majors as highly indicative to their success in the program.

"We have a lot of anecdotal evidence from alumni that this was a crucial element in their persistence in the program," says Madsen. "We have seen an increase in the activity of our chapter of SPS. This contributes to the esprit de corps of the students, increases the visibility of the program on and off campus, and even contributes to recruitment efforts via outreach visits the SPS make to local schools. This growth in activity of SPS does coincide with our increase in physics majors."

The SPS group regularly visits area schools, hosts a Science Day for high school students, attends national physics conferences and promotes an interest in physics, research contributions, and recruit physics majors. "An active SPS chapter helps build a sense of community, and that helps the whole program to grow and succeed," says Blodgett.

Currently at 41 members, SPS is not limited to just physics members. "Some are alumni, quite a few are not physics majors. They just are interested in physics, and enjoy some of the activities that we partake in," says Blodgett. "This helps maintain a sense of community, which I firmly believe is crucial to the growth and success of a challenging program like physics."

Current members include:

Alexandra Albrigtson, Woodville, Wis.
Aaron Bergman, Oshkosh, Wis.
Matthew Blodgett, Boyceville, Wis.
Cadie Boyung, West Bend, Wis.
Tyler Campbell, Eau Claire, Wis.
Johnathan Carnine, Amery, Wis.
Ann Deml, Medford, Wis.
David Frank, Deer Park, Wis.
Travis Getzie, Ellsworth, Wis.
Reime Jahr, Osceola, Wis.
Tom Johnson, River Falls, Wis.
Adam Lewis, Plover, Wis.
Jennifer Lieber, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
Lee Massey, New Richmond, Wis.
Krista Miller, Owen, Wis.
Shawntel Murphy, Somerset, Wis.
Daniel Musekamp, Oshkosh, Wis.
Bridget Onan, Ellsworth, Wis.
Joel Sanderson, New Richmond, Wis.
Grant Squires, Altoona, Wis.
Michael Tate, Muskego, Wis.
Trevor Tomesh, Cameron, Wis.
Katherine Ward, Hudson, Wis.

Zach Bullough, Cottage Grove, Minn.
Matthew Cady, Red Wing, Minn.
David Fairchild, Maple Grove, Minn.
Christopher Feld, Rosemount, Minn.
Lucas Hafstad, Eagan, Minn.
David Johnson, Ostrander, Minn.
Crystal Sparkman, Woodbury, Minn.
Michael Sykora, Deer Park, Minn.

Devin Underwood, Wasilla, Ark.


Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:08:00 Central Daylight Time


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