This semester, SYP (School for Young Physicists) kicked off its 8th season in style. In September, the main topic was military physics, and the session was very special. For starters, the topic garnered great interest from students, and a capacity number of 320 (!) students attended, which was a monumental increase over the previous record of 250 people. Managing such a large crowd is a great challenge, but our organizing team did a splendid job in making sure everyone was attended to.
However, this was not the only extraordinary thing to happen – after the popular lectures, the experimental part had students doing all kinds of military related things, for example – decoding messages and working with electronic sonar detectors, but the main attraction was shooting with paintball guns and analyzing the trajectory of the paintballs experimentally and theoretically.
For the last in-depth lecture we had a representative from the Latvian Army and two Canadian army officers – one a PhD in physics – who gave lectures about their everyday work and the role of physics in it. This event caught enough attention that the Army sent over a reporter crew to film the entire process, which was a first for SYP.
After the first session, attendance rates remained very high, stabilizing at 250 attendees for every session until December. In later sessions, we looked at radioactivity and nuclear physics, at chemical physics and at thermal physics. In all cases, students learned something outside of the school curriculum. Highlights include a popular lecture introducing students to the topic of quantum physics in chemistry and an experiment with colored ice cubes visually demonstrating the effects of convection in a glass of water.
This semester, our team has not only facilitated the ever-growing sessions in Latvia’s capital, Riga, but also slightly expanded our reach across the country. Previously, we only held sessions in Valmiera, Kuldiga and Ventspils, but now a new city has joined the fold – we will also hold sessions in the regional center Rezekne.
The schools that we’ve visited thus far have all shown willingness to continue to work together, and have asked if classes for younger students than Grade 10 are available. As a consequence, our team also occasionally hosts tailor-made sessions for the younger students, involving them as well.
We’ve also done numerous projects that are directly not connected with our sessions – our team has constructed a physics prop (a large scale wave pendulum) for a TV show and taken part in creating exhibitions for museums (specifically, an interactive stand about the working principles of a light bulb, a phone and communications systems). Slowly but surely, SYP is garnering a reputation for being able to present physics in an interesting, educational and simple manner not only to high school students, but to people of all ages and walks of life.
Altogether, the first semester of SYP’s 8th season has been a record-setting one, and we look forward to keeping the upward trend going in 2018.