Alumni News

March 6, 2019 at 3:24 pm

High School Students ‘Adopt’ OHIO Physicists and Alumni

Dr. Gabriela Popa, portarit in her office

Dr. Gabriela Popa

“My name is Alena and I am in your adopted physics class. Most of the things in your profile description I didn’t understand very well, but I wanted to ask, how do you deform a nucleus and how would you study such a thing? Also, how do you use physics specifically in your job? Thank you so much, Alena.”

Questions like these from high school students are common for physicists participating in an innovative three-week online discussion forum each year called “Adopt-a-Physicist.”

This past semester, several high school classes across the United States paired with Ohio University Physics & Astronomy faculty members and alumni. The goal of the forum is to connect high school physics students to real physics graduates who are eager to share their stories and love of physics.

Program guidelines encourage students to ask questions that they find meaningful. For example, questions on hobbies, physics careers, and daily life are welcome. Students and physicists are encouraged to post multiple times weekly and are often surprised at the many things they have in common.

“The high school students are very relaxed and have a genuine interest in physics,” said Dr. Gabriela Popa, Associate Professor of Physics at Ohio University Zanesville. “They appear to be pulling together lessons from physics class with the news or other information they receive from other media sources.”

OHIO nuclear astrophysicist Dr. Zach Meisel was impressed that the students who “adopted” him were aware of the connection between nuclear astrophysics and nuclear power.

“Many seemed to know that stars are essentially giant fusion reactors, which I think most of the general public is unaware of,” he said. Meisel’s weekly interactions with the students included a follow-up video get-together organized by one of the teachers in the week after the official conclusion of the program.

“I participated in the Adopt-a-Physicist program because of the unique chance it provides students to learn about career possibilities in physics directly from physicists,” Meisel explained. “When I was in high school, I only had a vague idea of how to pursue a career in physics and what that would entail. My hope is that the students in this program are now a bit better informed.”

Along with Popa and Meisel, other “adopted” physics professors include Dr. Julie Roche, Dr. Paul King, and Ohio University Chillicothe physics lecturer Dr. Michael Koop. Also participating were OHIO alumni Dr. Rakitha Beminiwattha (’13, Ph.D.) and Helen Cothrel (B.S. Physics ’15, Honors Tutorial College). Beminiwattha is an assistant professor of physics at Louisiana Tech University. Cothrel received an M.S. in Physics Education from Eastern Michigan University in 2018 and is currently a physics lab lecturer at Kettering University in Flint, Mich.

Adopt-a-Physicist is a service provided by Sigma Pi Sigma (ΣΠΣ), the physics honor society, in collaboration with the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and ComPADRE. It is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the American Physical Society Campaign for Physics.

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