Adopt-a-Physicist program puts a new face on science
|Adopt-a-Physicist helps students communicate with physicists online.
When your average student pictures a scientist, he or she might draw from images in movies.
But the Society of Physics Students has found a way to connect students with real scientists through the computer screen instead of the silver screen.
For three weeks, high school students participating in the society's Adopt-a-Physicist program communicated with physicists through an online forum about the scientists' lives, work and aspirations.
"Many people don't have a sense of what you can do with a major in physics," wrote Kendra Rand, Society of Physics Students program coordinator. "In fact, we've heard stories of people whose guidance counselors have told them not to major in physics because it's not very marketable."
More than 120 working physicists who participated in the forum beg to differ.
Fermilab physicist David Harding participated in the program to make science and scientists more real to the students.
"That way, they may be able to think of themselves as possibly being scientists one day," he said.
Harding said many students are put off by science when teachers present it as an academic exercise rather than a concrete way to understand the world.
But "most of them have a natural interest, if they know what science is," he said.
Students on the forum asked physicists questions ranging from "Will the Large Hadron Collider create a black hole?" to "Do you think time travel is possible?" to "Does being a physicist get you more dates?"
Gary White, director of the Society of Physics Students, wryly answered that last question: "Probably less."
But students were most interested in getting to know their "adopted" physicists as people, said participant and Fermilab physicist Michael Syphers.
"I thought they might want help with their homework," he said. But in addition to asking questions about science and society, "they wanted to know; Am I a real person? Do I have kids?"
-- Kathryn Grim