Penn Summer Science Academy

By Mark Trodden | July 23, 2009 8:55 pm

The last couple of weeks have seen our Department teeming with the participants in the Penn Summer Science Academy. This wonderful program, now in its twelfth year, is run by Bill Berner, who can also pull together any demonstration you may wish for in your classes. Guided by Bill, a number of other staff members and a local high school physics teacher, the students (“academically qualified high school students currently enrolled in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade”) go through an intensive physics experience for four weeks, including mini-courses, demos, research lectures, lab work and field trips, finishing up with a panel discussion on careers in science, featuring professionals from research, education, and industry.

On Tuesday I got to play a small part in this by delivering a lecture on modern cosmology

pssa.JPG

I am repeatedly amazed whenever I do something like this by how eager people are to hear about cosmology, and by the great questions they come up with that get to the heart of what is known and what is at the edge of our understanding.

In Tuesday’s lecture I didn’t even get to any of the more esoteric topics, such as inflation, although we did talk about cosmic acceleration a little, and discussed dark matter quite a lot. Lots of times when one talks about dark matter, people are fascinated by the particle physics possibilities – sometimes they’ve heard of supersymmetry, for example, and want to understand what dark matter might have to do with it. But interestingly most of the questions I got yesterday were empirical in nature, concerning how we know what we know about dark matter, and why we think it behaves the way it does. This is, of course, as it should be. It might be a consequence of this being an experimentally focused program, but whatever it is, it is clear that Bill and everyone else is doing a great job.

It doesn’t take much time to take part in something like this – an hour of lecture and thirty to forty minutes of discussion afterwards. And it is immensely fun and rewarding. If the students enjoyed themselves half as much as I did then I’ll be delighted.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Society
  • per

    Eager? I see a guy sleeping in the picture! :-)

  • http://www.teamsikorski.com Spiv

    Any thoughts on the apparent 2:1 boy:girl ratio that seems to be? Whole class is not pictured, so it’s possible the future women scientists grouped together in the back due to their superior vision.

    Or perhaps we’re still not doing the best possible job of inspiring young women to the sciences?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    per – blinking, I’m sure!

    Spiv – I don’t know anything about the selection criterion, so can’t say anything useful about that. It is highly competitive and this is the group that made the cut this year. I also don’t know anything about previous years etc.

    As for the more general question; I think many of us are doing what we can to try to inspire smart young people to be scientists, no matter what their gender, race, etc. But we’re not the only influences.

  • Ken

    In the picture I see mixture of interest (leaning forward) and lack of interest or something else negative in the kids with their arms folded.

    I taught physics to gifted middle-schoolers in SIG one summer during my postdoc at Michigan. To keep their attention we did a lot of hands on stuff. As little passive learning for them as possible. They were so involved and excited that I had more fun than I imagined I would. Doing things hands on, we could even cover things like topology, GR, and QM. Much math was omitted though. A third of the class were girls, and they had just as much fun.

    You can’t lecture to these kids like they’re undergrads or grad students. Must always adapt to fit the audience.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    In the picture I see mixture of interest (leaning forward) and lack of interest or something else negative in the kids with their arms folded.

    Personally, I usually sit back in lectures I’m interested in, and often fold my arms. Not to say they were fascinated, just that one can’t read a picture.

    I taught physics to gifted middle-schoolers in SIG one summer during my postdoc at Michigan. To keep their attention we did a lot of hands on stuff. As little passive learning for them as possible. They were so involved and excited that I had more fun than I imagined I would. Doing things hands on, we could even cover things like topology, GR, and QM. Much math was omitted though. A third of the class were girls, and they had just as much fun.

    Indeed, sometimes hands on demonstrations etc. are very useful.

    You can’t lecture to these kids like they’re undergrads or grad students.

    Who would do that?

    Must always adapt to fit the audience.

    All good speakers do.

  • http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com Cormac O Raifeartaigh

    Well done Mark. I’d love to do something like this -I often give BB talks to adults, never thought about summer schools! Must get onto it for next year…

  • rimpal

    $6,299 Residential Tuition + $200 passage + $200 incidentals?
    …I am happy for these children. I am glad their parents can afford it. I sent mine to 2 1-week camps at a public university last year that . One was free and the other was reasonably priced at $250. This year no camps were offered – budget cuts. Given my current circumstances, I would struggle to even pay the application fee. So mine is learning to work on cars and plumbing this summer as a sort of apprentice. But blogs like yours offer so much to discuss. Thanks for helping people like us.
    Other associations too help. The Columbus Humanists let me and mine attend PZ Myers’s lecture for free earlier this year. Scientists can be such teddybears. Thanks again!

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

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