Spring is here, bringing with it warm weather, singing birds, and blooming flowers but Physics students at The University of New Mexico know Spring for more exciting reasons.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy recently held UNM Physics Day 2023, an annual undergraduate research conference and open house event organized by students for students that included a local area high school participant and several faculty members.

The annual event, held at UNM’s Physics, Astronomy, and Interdisciplinary Science Building (PAIS), featured a plenary talk from Assistant Professor Francis-Yan Cyr-Racine titled, My long journey towards understanding the Universe. Cyr-Racine’s talk was followed by a series of six undergraduate research talks, demonstrations of physics concepts, a poster session and an awards ceremony.

A demonstration from UNM Physics Day 2023.

Winners on the day included:

Best Oral Presentation
Michael Bess, Atmospheric Characterization of Super-Earth 55 Cancri e with JWST
Tristen Larkin, Machine Learning and Migdal Search

Best Poster Award
Stephanie Hansen, SiO Maser Dependency on the Circumstellar Shell in AGB Stars
Simon Matin, Radio Frequency Interference at the South Pole’s Dark Sector

There’s more to Physics Day than talks and poster presentations. When the UNM Society of Physics Students (SPS) think of Spring, they also think of the Physics Demo Show. Held in Regener Hall (named after former Physics Department Chair Victor Regener), the demo show is a semi-annual event that showcases the interesting things to the community that UNM Physics classes have to offer. It is a big hit for Albuquerque students and features a wide range of physics demonstrations. It is also a great way for students and faculty in the Physics department to get to know each other.

“The physics demo shows are always very fun and interesting,” said Ethan Sloan, SPS chapter president. “Everyone involved has a love of physics, and putting on these shows is an exciting way to show off impressive demonstrations of physics concepts and to test our own knowledge of how they work. It is exciting to share our love of physics to an audience. The demo shows are also a great way to get to know people in the department, students and faculty alike.”

Rocket Car
SPS chapter President Ethan Sloan and Vice President Leif Nelson operate a rocket car during the Classical Mechanics section of the demo show.

The demo show included a demonstration of the Reuben's Tube, as well as a rocket car operated by SPS chapter President and Vice President, Ethan Sloan and Leif Nelson. There was also a tug-of-war match between members of the audience using the Magdeburg hemispheres to demonstrate the properties of Fluid Mechanics.

The unbelievable collection of physics demos featured in the show has been curated over several decades. Each show covers topics ranging from Newtonian mechanics to superconductivity, with the grand finale always being the imploding barrel. SPS members enjoy the performance just as much as their audience.

“We have an amazing collection of physics demos that have been built over the decades by our talented current and former professors, so there is so much to pick from when we decide to do a show,” said Nelson. “We all get to input what we want to do, and there is so much support and help from everyone around. It’s always so much fun to get others to see our demos and I love getting to talk to the audience after shows to answer their questions and see them get excited about physics!

SPS club members put in several hours of work into every production, with preparation starting weeks before the big day. This preparation includes a general meeting in which SPS students choose a set list of the demonstrations and will present the demonstrations they decided on. The meetings also give the club a chance to rehearse shows in the evenings before the event day arrives. SPS Chapter Secretary, Andrew Ybarra, said that those with less of a background in Physics are welcome to participate as well.

Members of the audience play tug of war with Magdeburg hemispheres to demonstrate the properties of atmospheric pressure.

“I have a great love for the Demo Show. I started helping in the production last year based on a recommendation from a friend studying physics," Ybarra said. "I find it to be a great way to see all of the things my fellow students get to observe in classes that I’m not taking. Each demonstration is undoubtedly one of the most interesting things I have seen in my time as a student.”

Physics Day was planned and coordinated by Society for Physics students, assisted by the dedicated help of several faculty and staff members including David Dunlap, Andrew McDowell, Ylva Pihlström, Richard Rand, and Teaching Lab Supervisor Hatem Babaa. Special kudos to Assistant Professor Tonmoy Chakraborty, who helped make it all happen.

The Rayburn Reaching Up Fund was the main sponsor of the event; additional sponsors included the Society of Physics Students and the UNM Department of Physics & Astronomy.

For more information about the department, visit UNM Physics and Astronomy.