University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy


Society of Physics Students

SPS Member, Joe Svetlik at an outreach event.

The Society of Physics Students at the University of Minnesota has one of the most active and effective clubs for undergraduate physics majors in the country. The Minnesota chapter won a national award in 2013 for Outstanding Chapter.

The group has 80 members and Chapter President Chris Phenicie says that on any given day, 30-40 of them will drop by the group’s group space in the basement of Tate Lab of Physics to study or socialize. Group members have 24/7 access which is convenient for studying. Phenicie says it’s not uncommon for the room to be used after midnight during exams.

SPS members get together weekly for a series of talks by faculty members, graduate students and alumni. The topics range from phyiscs research to interesting career paths for their major. “We want to give our members a look around,” Phenicie says. “We have fun too. We had a liquid nitrogen ice cream social with the Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Engineers and the Society of Asian Engineers.” Phenicie says that apart from fun, the event was aimed at bridging the gap between the large amount of cultural homogeny in the group, which is not reflected in classrooms.

The group also hosted a spring break regional meeting for SPS Chapters from neighboring states. The event featured physics presentations and a game night. The regional meeting gave the Minnesota chapter a chance to demonstrate their leadership on a larger scale and meet other students with similar interests from the area.

The chapter operates an active outreach program. In 2013, the group applied for and received a number of grants to purchase and build several hands on demonstrations. The group built a briefcase with a motor inside that spins, using conservation of angular momentum, an acoustic levitation device, and a radio telescope that will be able to measure properties of the atmosphere. The group performs outreach demonstrations for hundreds of visitors at events like the "Mystery Science Room" at the Math and Science Family Fun Fair, College of Science and Engineering Expo, CSE week and Homecoming week, as well as holding their own Merit Badge Night for boy scouts earning their Nuclear Science Merit Badge. Phenicie says that they have focused their outreach efforts on middle schools because the demand is there and because the students have learned enough science by that point to understand complex demonstrations.

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