The Fall Meeting at Gannon

Thank you very much to those of you who came out to Gannon for our Fall Meeting.   The rain didn’t dampen the spirit any – we had great talks and great conversation as always.  Special recognition is owed to Nick Conklin and the Gannon faculty who put together a great meeting for us.   We will look forward to seeing both old and new faces in the Spring!

Fall 2013 meeting at Gannon

Fall 2013 Meeting of the Western Pennsylvania Section of the AAPT

Palumbo Building, Room 1200

Gannon University, Erie, PA


Agenda (may be modified at the discretion of the Executive Committee)


8:30-9:30         Registration. Continental breakfast provided.

9:30-9:45         Opening and Welcome, Remarks by the Dean.

 9:45-10:00       Conklin, N. and Lee, W. (Gannon University):   Gannon University’s Cosmic-Ray Calorimeter

As part of NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrumentation Project, Gannon University has been selected to design and construct a detector to measure the cosmic-ray proton-to-helium ratio. Students will actively participate in all aspects of project management, gaining invaluable hands-on experience. Upon completion, the payload will be launched to an altitude of 35 km for a ~6 hour flight. Details on the project goals and payload design will be presented.

10:00-10:15     Novobilsky, S. (Mercyhurst University): Optics for Life Sciences: A Microscopy Based Course

We are creating a course in upper-division optics for undergraduate science students. Because the students will be primarily physical and life sciences students but not physics students, the course will need to appeal to a broad audience. Using a graduate course at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst as an example, we are currently designing a microscopy course that will be taught in the upcoming calendar year. This talk will include information about the course structure and design as well as information about the equipment required to create a course of this type.

10:15-10:30     Hare, E. and Wagner, DJ (Grove City College):  Movie Physics

Have you ever wondered what a physics idea would look like if you take it out of a text book and instead show how it would work in the real world? I will be talking about how I spent my summer finding movie clips that could be used in teaching physics. I will also discuss how students respond to using movie clips in a general-education concept based physics class.

10:30-10:45     Brown, T., (University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg):  Monitoring Variable Stars with a DSLR camera

Contributions to active astronomy research is not completely confined to large institutions
or groups with an array of expensive telescopes and CCD accessories. A standard digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and tripod combined with freeware from the web is all that is required to collect, analyze and submit contributing data on bright variable stars. This presentation will center around the advantages and pitfalls of using the IRIS software package supplied by the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) to observe the well-known eclipsing binary b Persei (Algol).

10:45-11:00     Break (Grab the breakfast materials before they take them away!)

11:00-11:45     Invited Presentation: Anderson, T. (Penn State – University Park)

It was over 100 years ago that intrepid balloonist and physics pioneer Victor Hess, armed only with an electroscope, mounted a series of manned balloon campaigns, in which he discovered “a radiation of very high penetrating power” which originated from above the atmosphere—a discovery which Robert Millikan later dubbed “cosmic rays”. Today, the spectra of cosmic rays are known to span an enormous range in both energy and flux, and their composition has been traced back to many of the elements in the periodic table. Yet despite a century of  research, details of the origins, acceleration mechanisms, and propagation history of cosmic rays remain elusive. After providing an overview of the historical aspects and well-established properties of cosmic rays, the talk will focus on current and future experimental efforts to understand their nature. Particular focus will be paid to the Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM) program, including its Long Duration Balloon (LDB) campaigns over the Antarctic continent and its upcoming mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

11:45-12:00     Neiman III, E. A., Bennett, J., Wasser, C., Samkari, Y., Joefield Jr, K., MacKellar, D.,  Conklin, N., and Lee, W. (Gannon University): High Altitude Radiation Detector 2 (HARD 2)
HARD 2 investigates how the cosmic-ray east-west asymmetry in arrival direction changes with an increase in altitude. The goals of HARD are as follows: a) to detect cosmic rays and b) to determine the east-west asymmetry at varying elevations. HARD was one of twelve competitively awarded payloads to participate in HASP 2013 (High Altitude Student Platforms), a program from LSU (in conjunction with NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility). HASP provided a voluminous eleven million cubic feet balloon, power supply, command uplink, data downlink, GPS telemetry, and mechanical interface. Our payload used an array of four scintillating crystals, which generate a pulse of light when charged cosmic rays pass through them, combined with silicon photomultiplier, to convert that light into an electrical pulse. The electrical pulse was then manipulated through an amplifier and comparator to be read out by a microcontroller. This talk will discuss the design, construction and engineering of the payload.

12:00-1:15       Lunch in the cafeteria then return to Palumbo, room 1200

1:15-1:30         Lindsey, B., (Penn State Greater Allegheny) and Willard, K. (Monessen HS): PAIRing High School and College Teachers

In the Fall of 2012, the APS created a pilot project in Physics Teacher professional development, the PAIR (Physics and Instructional Resources) project. This project was designed to support high school physics teachers by providing them with financial support and mentorship. We undertook a project to reform the physics teaching at Monessen High school, with a specific focus on circular motion and optics. We will describe the results of the project, challenges encountered, and lessons learned.

1:30-1:45         Lindow, A., Carbone, E., and Wagner, D.J. (Grove City College):  Similar Density Questions with Very Different Results.

While developing a standardized fluids assessment covering buoyancy and pressure, we discovered deficiencies in student understanding of density. In particular, many college students do not recognize that density is a fixed property of a solid substance, such as aluminum or gold. We added questions to our diagnostic exam to probe the extent of student difficulties. In one of our questions, only 50-60% of students recognize that the density of gold is a fixed value. When similar questions from an existing diagnostic are used, however, 88-100% of students correctly identify the density of a piece of wood and of a diamond as fixed values. In this presentation, which follows up on the presentation made by DJ Wagner last year, we discuss the differences between these questions and how those differences affect student responses.

1:45-2:15         Late Abstracts and Break

2:15-2:45        Business Meeting

2:45                 Drawings, giveaways and other fun stuff.