The 2019 Physics Congress (PhysCon), hosted by Sigma Pi Sigma (∑∏∑), the physics honors society, and the Society of Physics Students (SPS) provided the opportunity for physics students from around the country to raise local SPS chapter issues to the national level, share their experiences as students, and present their research to a larger community. Feedback from the last congress (held in 2016, in San Francisco, CA) guided the efforts of the staff and volunteers of ∑∏∑ and SPS, to seek solutions for these issues, between PhysCon meetings. This active participation of the students is what differentiates this congress from other conferences.
Four Saint Joseph’s University students, Ryan Armbruster (’20, Chemical Biology with a minor in Health Care Ethics), Francis Snyder (’21, Physics), Emily Lehman (’21, dual major Physics & Environmental Science), and Alexander Manduca (’22, Physics with Music minor) presented their research in physics at the congress. The congress allowed the students to meet physics students and SPS faculty advisors from around the country and discuss issues that the students face, to include mental health, post-graduation options, and outreach.
The students attended workshops on a variety of topics, including using astronomy as outreach to the larger university community and the physics of jazz. Plenary sessions included talks by diverse and accomplished scientists, such as Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (pictured with Alex, Francis, and Ryan), the co-discoverer of radio pulsars and 2019 recipient of the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. One highlight for the students was visiting Brown University for social events and physics demonstration sessions, including a demonstration by Dr. Bill Phillips, Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics for his contributions to laser cooling.