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School for Young Physicists

4This 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.

School for Young Physicists

4Another school year has passed, and another SYP season has concluded as well. This year, turnout was at its highest level, with an average of 176 students taking part in each session.

The topics covered in the nine sessions throughout the season were:
• Deconstruction of popular urban myths with physics
• The physics of sound
• Radioelectronics
• Astronomy and cosmology
• Simple mechanisms
• Electromagnetism
• The role of numerical solutions in physics
• Geophysics
• General and special theory of relativity

Highlights of the season include (but are not limited to) using an elastic membrane to simulate the bending of spacetime, students being introduced to the numerical Euler’s method, which is never touched upon in any high-school curricula and a UL professor telling everyone the basic idea of why Earth has a magnetic field, explaining the underlying concepts of magneto-hydrodynamics.

The 2nd School Cup was awarded at the end of the season. This year, Aizkraukle Regional gymnasium’s team “Re, kā!” were the winners. They took away the main prize; second and third place winners also received prizes, as did the students that performed best throughout the season. Students thoroughly enjoyed this year, as the season closed with thunderous applause from participants.

Aside from our main sessions, we also participated in a popular nation-wide physics competition “eXperiments”, providing two out of five challenges for contestants to solve in the finals, as well as entertaining the supporters of the contestants with a small show, demonstrating a few fun experiments. The competition is running for the 22nd year, and is well known among teachers in Latvia.

Our summer season has also kicked off: as in previous years, our School for Young Physicists took part in the extreme sport festival “Playground”, once again upping our workshop in size, scope and popularity. As in previous years, staples such as the potato cannon (two, this time) and the tennis ball catapult were set up again, and popular experiments such as the hold-fire-in-your-hand and mushing around in a non-Newtonian fluid were demonstrated.

The full list of experiments and activities (in addition to those already mentioned), all free of charge, includes:
• vinegar and soda bottle rockets
• demonstrations for the gyroscopic effect with a wheel
• a self-programmed puzzle game for all ages
• a membrane for demonstrating spacetime curvature
• a large-sized wave pendulum

The last three activities were new to our workshop setup, and were very successful. In particular, the spacetime membrane with marbles on it acting as planets was popular with kids!

All in all, this year has been a success, and we will look to further improve our monthly sessions and increase the scope of our activities in the future.

A new dimension

Latvia3Every year, Riga Young Minds section figures out a new direction in which to grow our School for Young Physicists project – this time, we began expanding our efforts beyond traditional sessions with lectures and tried building physics workshops at various events – such as town fairs, festivals and summer camps for children, even briefly appearing in a TV show.

Once the season ends in May, we have free time during the summer, and it can be put to good use. Our workshop activities especially ramped up towards the second half of summer 2016 – numerous towns invited us to fairs, we took part in the extreme sports festival “Playground”, appeared on a TV quiz for school students called “eXperiments”, took part in a project that merges humanitarian arts such as song and poetry with the precision of physics, and much more. In these workshops, we take a step away from our typical format, focusing more on the fun one has doing experiments and trying to raise interest in physics by way of the wow-factor. For this reason, we built gadgets such as a huge slingshot and assembled a spud gun.

The workshops appear to have been a success, as we received more and more offers to host our workshops as the summer rolled on and transitioned into autumn. With the beginning of our school year season, these activities have toned down in intensity, but nevertheless happen from time to time. The second semester promises more workshop activities and physics demonstrations, as the yearly TV show will take place again in the spring season and a few other projects take place.

Regional sessions of the School for Young Physicists

Latvia2During the 7th season of SYP, Riga Young Minds section has continued to expand our efforts to bring physics education to areas that are further from the capital of Latvia. In addition to the destinations we visited in the past season (Valmiera, Kuldiga and Ventspils), we’ve added another large city to that mix – this year, Liepaja, our most southwestern city, has joined the fold.

A variety of topics have been presented – sometimes, topics that have yet to premiere in the capital have test runs, other times, well established (and improved) topics are chosen. Across various cities, lectures on topics such as astronomy, acoustics and forensic science have been given.

Even if the topics repeat in different cities, the approach is often different, because the audience is different – in Kuldiga, it a smaller group of high school students, but in Ventspils, for example, it is a larger group of grade 8 – 9 students. To make the experience as entertaining and valuable as possible, we try to tailor each session to the audience that we’re visiting.

During this semester, the SYP team has visited Valmiera three times, Kuldiga twice, Ventspils twice and Liepaja once. Our aim is to continue holding sessions in these cities in the second half of the school year as well, and plans for adding sessions in another city are in the works.

School for Young Physicists

Latvia1This season marked the seventh anniversary of the main project of our YM section – the School for Young Physicists (SYP). Each month, around 200-250 students from schools all over Latvia gather in the University of Latvia for an entertaining Saturday and to learn some extracurricular physics.

Sessions are held each month, each with a different theme. Every session starts with two popular lectures, 40 minutes in duration, held by physics students of various levels in University of Latvia. In these lectures, topics that generally are not discussed in school are presented in an entertaining manner. Thereafter, participants take a 30-minute break and are treated to a lunch with sandwiches and tea. Then follows the practical part, in which students themselves put the things they’ve just learned to the test. Afterwards another break is held in which students are again treated with food, this time with sweets such as chocolate and cookies and tea. Lastly, a professor or a specialist in the topic is invited for a more in-depth lecture.

A competition called the “School cup” is also held during the season, in which teams of 5 students representing their school do creative tasks assigned to them to come out victorious. Eternal glory and different prizes await for the winners of this competition. This season, 15 different teams are rivaling for the School cup.

On September 24, the seventh season was kicked off with a session titled “Mythologics” in which we discussed how using relatively simple knowledge of physics one can evaluate the plausibility of different claims.

On October 15, the second session of SYP took place. This time, the physics of sound was the topic, and the session was titled “With a physical undertone”.

On the November 12, students gathered to participate in the third session of SYP7 which was titled “Transmitted!” and was about radio-electronics.

On December 10, the last session of the autumn semester was held. Titled “Calculate like a star”, the topic for this session was astronomy.

Physics workshop in festival “Playground”

4From July 8-10 the members of the University of Latvia Young Minds Section participated in a sports, music and creativity festival named “Playground”. The festival proved to be quite popular, garnering a turnout of a few thousand people. In the festival, our section operated a workshop in which attendants could take part in various physical demonstrations. The workshop attracted numerous people, young and old, most of whom had little day to day interaction with physics and science in general. Some were interested in the physical background of the experiments, while other were content with just witnessing the show.

Highlights of our demonstrations included:

  • potato cannons and a catapult which people could use to shoot at pre-made targets;
  • bottle rockets which could be launched in the air with pressure created by the release of CO2 from the reaction of baking soda with vinegar;
  • a mixture of corn starch and water, which changes its apparent viscosity depending on the way it is handled;
  • a demonstration with different color dyes that were placed inside glycerol, then slowly, carefully stirred until they seemed to have mixed. The dyes were then unmixed by stirring the liquid backwards;
  • an electronic 1 vs 1 reaction game set up on a breadboard and operated by Raspberry Pi;
  • the creation of dense mist by pouring water onto dry ice.

Conference “Developments in Optics and Communications 2016”

1imgA little earlier than usual – just before Easter -, from the 21st to 23rd of March, the 12th International student and young scientist conference “Developments in Optics and Communications 2016” (DOC 2016) was held in Riga. It gathered many brilliant young scientists from different countries to share their scientific work, insights and experiences in various fields related to optics: vision science, optical materials, biophotonics, laser physics and spectroscopy.

Each topic also featured an invited speaker that shared their experience with the young scientists. This year from Latvia – Dr. Mara Reinfelde talked about “Practical application of holography” for the Laser Physics and Spectroscopy section, University of Latvia OSA student chapter advisor Dr. Florian Gahbauer gave an amazing speech on the topic of “Magnetic sensing with nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres in synthetic diamond”. The conference organizers had also invited speakers from Israel and Finland to talk about their research.

Dr. Igor Meglinski was invited to tell students about “Cloud Monte Carlo for the needs of biomedical optics” for the biophotonics section and Prof. Zeev Zalevsky from Israel gave a speech about “Super resolved and extended depth of focus concepts for remote and ophthalmic imaging systems” for vision science students. Students were so engaged in Prof. Zalevsky’s speech that it took almost an extra 20 minutes just to answer all the questions and give in-depth explanations of his work.

Traditionally the best poster and the best oral presentation are given an award for their work funded by University of Latvia OSA student chapter, and this year was no exception. The best speech award was given to Janis Smits for his talk “Deconvolution – a tool for enhanced resolution magnetic images” and the best poster was presented by Andris Antuzevics (“Structure of Gd3+ ions in oxyfluoride glass ceramics containing fluorite crystallites”).

This year was special also because of the conference venue. The conference was held in the newly built Academic Center for Natural Sciences of the University of Latvia (ULACNS) in Tornakalns. ULACNS opened its doors on September 7th, 2015. It was hoped that relocating to the new UL ACNS would create unprecedented opportunities for cooperation between scientific fields and study programs. And indeed it was an amazing experience to listen to talks and admire posters in the new building. The premises on the 7th floor provided an amazing view over Riga for every attendee to enjoy. The staff were also kind enough to allow conference guests to enjoy the view from the rooftop.

The conference was not only an event to present one’s work and listen to others, but also a way to meet fellow physicists in an informal environment. Since the best collaboration ideas are usually born while discussing various topics outside the conference rooms, this year a friendly paint-ball tournament for the conference participants was held.

The conference was organised alongside University of Latvia SPIE and OSA chapters.

Regional School for Young Physicists

1The School for Young Physicists project that our Young Minds section organizes not only held monthly sessions in the capital of our country this season, but also held regular sessions in other regions as well. Namely, this season we visited schools in Valmiera, Kuldīga and Ventspils.

Regional sessions take place two or three times a semester in each location. Students from surrounding schools are given the chance to attend a free lecture course – usually session topics that have already been tested in our main events are chosen, but sometimes they get a premier look at a new topic that has not yet been presented anywhere else.

Topics discussed this season in regional sessions include, but are not limited to, probability in physics, electronics and wave optics. Students had the opportunity to conduct experiments normally not done in schools – for example, they determined the distance between the pixels in their own smartphones, or calculated the value of pi by dropping buckwheat on a piece of paper.

These regional sessions are educating not only for the students attending – teachers also find inspiration in these non-standard topics and experiments, and materials for use in lessons are often left at schools that are visited for the teachers to use free of charge.

Our Young Minds section views these regional sessions as valuable opportunities for children that live far away from the capital to get a chance for extra curricular informal learning, so we will give our best efforts to expand in this direction next season.

6th season of School for Young Physicists

2Along with the school year, the School for Young Physicists has finished its season as well. Nine different, fun and educational sessions took place in the University of Latvia Faculty of Physics and Mathematics on the following topics:

-forensic physics
-biological physics
-centripetal force
-statistical physics
-liquid physics
-elementary particle physics

Each session was attended by an average of 150 students from different schools of Latvia who arrived to listen to popular science lectures from physics students, conduct some fun experiments and learn from the very best in lectures given by professors and specialists of the field.

A season-long competition was also held – the School Cup. To contend for it, students were tested on their knowledge after every session and also had to make videos of different topics as homework. Their work was graded after every session and a scoreboard was kept and regularly updated. The competition was tough but in the end the first place was awarded to the Riga State 1st Gymnasium team “Nucleus and Electrons”. The top teams and individual performers were awarded with gifts from our supporters.

The team of School for Young physicists also visited the best regional schools in Latvia for external sessions. We visited Valmiera State Gymnasium, Ventspils 1st State Gynmnasium and Kuldīga Gymnasium, thus offering the children to attend the sessions without having the need to travel the long distance to Riga. You can read more about it here.

All the materials and reviews can be found at www.jfs.lv

School for Young Physicists

2015_Riga_Scho_06For the sixth year, a monthly event has been taking place in the Department of Physics and Mathematics of the University of Latvia – it is the School for Young Physicists. Each time, around 200 high school students from all of Latvia gather to explore a topic of physics that is generally not discussed in the school curriculum.

The activities start with bachelor, masters or doctorate level students explaining the monthly topic in an entertaining manner in two popular lectures. The emphasis is placed on introducing the basic concepts in an easy to understand way, while also trying to expand on the subjects covered in school and giving real world examples.
Thereafter, the attendants are tasked to conduct an experiment that shows how things discussed in the lectures appear in reality. The experiments are designed to differ from those done in school physics lessons. For example, in a session about optical waves, the students measured the amount of pixels on their phone screens by using laser diffraction and later compared the results to the information available about their phone online.

Lastly, a professional in the area of the month’s subject is invited to give a more in depth story about how the topics discussed are relevant in his or her field of expertise. This shows students the different possible career prospects associated with natural and technical sciences as well as giving them some insight in more contemporary issues that people are dealing with in these fields.
Because the event lasts five hours, students take breaks after each activity, in which they can stretch their feet and refresh themselves with a cup of tea and the food provided. Every time we prepare various types of sandwiches with cheese, sausage, vegetables etc. and afterwards some cookies and chocolate.

A competitive spirit among the students is maintained by organizing contests and giving away prizes. After the popular lectures, tests are handed out to students. Their scores are gathered up and the best ones are awarded. Furthermore, a contest among schools is held, where the test scores of top students of that school are tallied up as well as points earned from completing home assignments given after each session. These home assignments usually involve exploring the topic discussed in everyday situations and filming it. At the end of the season, the school with the most points receives the honorable School Cup and the students some bigger prizes than the ones usually handed out.

In the past year, topics such as rotational mechanics, forensic science, biophysics and optics have been covered. Experimental highlights have been the aforementioned pixel measuring with light diffraction as well as solving a crime by inspecting a set up crime scene for clues. As for the professional lecturers, notable examples are a professional physicist working in forensics giving a lecture on his work and a high standing professor introducing high school students to the world of quantum physics.