Call for Abstracts – Fall Meeting

Please consider presenting at the Fall Meeting of the Western Pennsylvania Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers:   October 18th, 2014 at Thiel College in Greenville PA.
To present, e-mail ( ) and include:
Name, e-mail, and affiliation of presenter
Names, e-mails, and affiliations of any associated non-presenting authors
A title
A short abstract (up to 100 words)
It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be about physics, or teaching physics.
If you don’t want to present, please attend; these meetings are a great opportunity for making connections with other local physicists and physics teachers.
If you have any venue specific issues, please contact the host, Patrick Hecking, at

Fall 2014 Meeting – Thiel College

The Fall meeting for this year will be held at Theil College in Greenville, PA with local host Patrick Hecking.  The meeting will be on Saturday, October 18th and tentatively from 8:30-4pm.  The call for abstract will be sent out soon, so keep checking back for more information!

Spring Meeting at Monessen – Agenda

Spring 2014 Meeting of the Western Pennsylvania Section of the AAPT

Monessen High School

Monessen, PA


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

 8:00-9:00         Registration. Continental breakfast provided.

 9:00-9:15         Opening and Welcome Remarks

 9:15-9:30         Tucek, Ryan (Penn Trafford High School): Teaching Physics with Modeling Instruction

June 16 – July 3, Saint Vincent College will host a three-week, 14-day summer workshop to train high school teachers in the use of model-centered, constructivist method.Participants rotate through roles of students and instructor as they practice techniques of guided inquiry and cooperative learning. Plans and techniques for raising the level of discourse in classroom discussion and student presentations are emphasized.The workshop immerses teachers in physics (mechanics) content. All units are designed to promote understanding and improve student retention demonstrated by research on modeling methodology. Teachers commit to attending each day during the 3-week institute. Each teacher receives a flash drive containing the entire Modeling curriculum and a free one-year membership to the AMTA, 6 constant velocity buggies, and 10 white boards.

 9:30-9:45         Buxton, Gavin (Robert Morris University): The physics behind a simple demonstration of the greenhouse effect

A simple, and popular, demonstration of the greenhouse effect involves a higher temperature being observed in a container with an elevated concentration of CO2 inside than in a container with just air enclosed, when subject to direct light. The absorption of infrared radiation due to the enclosed CO2 is measured, and a one-dimensional model of heat transfer is solved. It is found that the temperature of the enclosed air is significantly higher inside the container with an elevated concentration of CO2 inside, validating this demonstration.

 9:45-10:00       Cho, Shinil (LaRoche): Questions always wanted to ask colleagues

There are several questions that many instructors would have while teaching physics at a small college.  With many factors including new discoveries in physics, development of technology, social/cultural change, different generations of students, and limited contact time, we have been changing the course content and the teaching methodology of general physics in various ways. Some examples will be presented to seek tips for better lecture and laboratory sessions.

 10:00-10:15     Antolin, Justin and Dieterle, William (California University of Pennsylvania): Physics on a Budget:  Calorimetric Determination of Laser Power

Commercial laser power ratings often are only approximations, with more attention being paid to the class of laser for safety purposes than to the actual (often varying by unit) wattage.  Photodiode detectors for exact measurements are beyond the budget of most small high schools and colleges. A method of measurement of laser power using a calorimeter commonly available in most departments is described and results are presented.

 10:15-10:30     Break

 10:30-10:45     Clark, Benjamin and Walters, Clifford (California University of Pennsylvania): Construction of a Working Plasma Speaker Using Readily Available Materials.

Using inexpensive readily available materials a portable working plasma speaker has been designed and constructed.  Theory, design, cost and safety issues will be discussed followed by a demonstration of the speaker itself.

 10:45-11:00     Freda, Ron and Sobelewski, Stan (Indiana University of Pennsylvania): The Effectiveness of Peer Instruction on Non-Science Students Enrolled In A Physical Science Class.

Peer tutoring, as developed by Eric Mazur and others has been shown to enhance conceptual understanding of Newton’s law of motion as measured by the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). In this method of instruction, multiple choice questions are presented to the class. Students offer individual responses either with an electronic personal response device or alphanumeric flash cards.  The instructor then reviews the responses; if a majority of the students did not select the correct answer, the instructor tells the students in the class to discuss their answer with their peers and vote again.  According to Mazur, the critical step in this process is the peer discussion.  In our study, we used two sections of Physical Science, a Physics course for non-science majors. When replicating the technique used by Mazur, we found not difference between peer tutoring and control group. We will discuss this result and offer other findings.

 11:00-12:00     Invited Presentation: Maries, Alexandru (University of Pittsburgh)

Alexandru Maries is the postdoctoral scholar for the Discipline-based Science Education Research Center (dB-SERC).  He obtained his Ph.D. recently in physics education research at University of Pittsburgh and will present findings relevant for teaching and learning of physics at all levels.

 12:00-1:30       Lunch

 1:30-1:45         Ritchie, Jessica; Li, Cash and Gasseller, Morewell (Mercyhurst): Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Investigation of Carbon Nanotubes and Gold                        Nanoparticles.

A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is an instrument in which a sharp metallic probe scanned across a sample surface is employed to detect changes in surface features on an atomic scale. STM enables us to study surface structure, electronic structure and chemical properties of the surface at the atomic scale. Here we describe our ongoing work on the use of STM to study gold nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes deposited on Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite (HOPG) and gold substrates.

 1:45-2:00         Hecking, Patrick (Thiel):  Micro-Scale Wind, Hydro, and Solar Energy Student Projects.

Research on micro-scale wind, hydro, and solar devices (10 W to 1 kW) makes for interesting student projects. Additionally, the exhibition of completed projects in a visible location on campus helps to educate the general college population about energy alternatives. Small water wheels have been tested using a rain gutter, and wind wheels using a fan. A solar panel is planned to drive a demonstration LEGO train, and a person-size water wheel has been constructed.

2:00-2:15         Reiland, Robert (CPEP): A Fabricated Universe.

An easy-to-make portable stretched sheet will be described and shown. In addition to the usual gravitational simulation with a weight on the sheet, a few other simulations will be suggested, including:

1. Dark Matter Seeding of the formation of the early universe

2. Gravitational Lensing

3. The storage of negative energy in gravitational fields.

Activities for all of these simulations are in the draft stage as part of future workshops to be offered by the Cosmology Division of the Contemporary Physics Educational Project. Correspondence concerning future drafts of these activities and suggestions for improvements will be welcome and can be sent to

2:15-2:30         Willson, Keith and Takahashi, Leo (Penn State Beaver): A Lecture Demonstration of the Einstein-de Haas Effect

In teaching physics, it is often more effective to show than to tell. With this in mind, we turn our attention to the Einstein – de Haas experiment, often referred to (incorrectly) as Albert Einstein’s only foray into the experimental side of physics. In a series of papers published in 1915 and 1916, Einstein and the Dutch physicist Wander Johannes de Haas presented their experimental work showing a connection between mechanical angular momentum and the magnetic moment and spin of particles. In this presentation we will show how this phenomenon can be demonstrated in a small classroom or laboratory setting using (mostly) commonly available materials.

2:30-2:45         Bradley, Bill (New Castle High School): Trebuchets as Physics Projects
I would like to present some of my experiences using Trebuchets as a project in first year Physics. This has been a popular project with my students and an interesting way to explore work, energy, and a surprising number of physics concepts.

 2:45-3:00         Martin, Kevin (Pitt Johnstown): Quantization in Music: An Interesting Take On How Fret Placement On A Guitar is Determined

The “pitch” interpreted by the ear of a sound is ultimately determined by the frequency (f) emitted by the instrument. For a stringed instrument, it is the frequency of the vibration. In general, the spectra of sound is continuous, but most (if not all), cultures have subdivided the octave (frequency from f to 2f) into a finite number of intervals (eight, twelve and sixteen appear common). For the “even-tempered scale” (twelve), it will be shown there is an interesting quantization rule that determines the placement of frets. This view can be useful when searching for an analogy for, say, the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom.

3:00-3:15         Late Abstracts and Break

3:15-3:30         Business Meeting, drawings, giveaways and other fun stuff.

Have a safe drive home!

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.

AAPT Summer Meeting

The 2013 Summer meeting just kicked off in Portland, Oregon.  The sun is shining and all of the Section Representatives are gathered to plan and work on professional development – including working on these websites!  

Check back soon for info about our section and the coming Fall meeting of the Western Pennsylvania Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Welcome to our Website!

Thanks for visiting our new Western Pennsylvania Section Website.  Thanks to Lee’s efforts, we have a new page up and running and we couldn’t be more excited about having a single place to house our archives and share information about upcoming meetings.  Stop back often – we’ll keep the page up-to-date as new information comes in.

Looking forward to seeing you all at our next meeting …