Prof. Jeff Rau conducts a demonstration for high school science students during Physics Academy. Prof. Jeff Rau conducts a demonstration for high school science students during Physics Academy.

Academy introduces high school students to university-level physics

A love of physics won 18 Grade 11 high school students the chance to witness UWindsor physicists making liquid nitrogen ice cream. That was just one event at the Department of Physics’ first-ever Physics Academy, Aug. 9 through 11.

Students from 10 Essex County schools were nominated by their Grade 11 physics teachers to receive advanced instruction at the three-day academy, featuring lectures, demonstrations and interactions, lab tours, the chance to mingle with faculty and undergraduate and graduate students, and hands-on labs.

Taylor DeVries of Sandwich Secondary School won a $2,500 scholarship for the best performance in all aspects of the academy. She says she enjoyed the demonstrations and appreciated the preview into Grade 12 physics.

“I was given one-on-one exposure to a few of the labs in the department and I understand that UWindsor physics students get undergraduate research opportunities,” says DeVries.

“I am very likely to choose UWindsor and to consider physics for my undergraduate degree as I saw the benefits of being a member of a smaller department where I wouldn't be lost in a crowd and considered just a number.”

As part of the hands-on lab experience, students played with “air carts” to learn about collisions, built their own circuits to study how electricity works, used lasers to measure the thickness of a human hair, and studied the colours that make up visible light by wearing special diffraction glasses.

Masters’ student Nathan Drouillard (BSc 2021) gave a demonstration on a Michelson interferometer to show how light is a wave and thus exhibits the property of interference.

“I really enjoyed speaking to the high school students and the experience allowed me to not only share a bit of my own work, but work on my science communication skills as well,” Drouillard says.

“I became interested in physics as a high school student at Assumption thanks to Mr. Mills who was an amazing teacher that made learning fun, so I believe that it’s important to teach science in a way that’s engaging and fun and that’s why I like giving tangible, hands-on demonstrations.”

Professors Jeff Rau, Steven Rehse, and Chitra Rangan all gave lectures on their respective areas of expertise, including how circular motion makes roller coasters and satellites move, how electric charges interact, and the nature of waves in both sound and light.

Assistant professor Dan Xiao, event organizer, says it was the collective effort that made it so successful.

“Numerous hours were devoted into preparing the lectures, demos, and labs and student volunteers played a crucial role,” says Dr. Xiao.

“I think the participants have also experienced the culture of our department that everybody contributes to the shared goal and learned how important it is to work or study in a caring and supportive community.”

Department head Dr. Rehse said he hopes Physics Academy becomes an annual event.

“By sharing with them our passion for physics, our insight into the applicability of physics in everyday phenomena, and showing them the fun and excitement that physics students and professors have for their subject, we hope to give them some preparation for their Grade 12 year of physics, but more importantly help them start to visualize themselves as potential UWindsor science students in the coming year — hopefully in the Department of Physics!” says Rehse.

Dean of science Chris Houser extended a $1,000 scholarship to anyone who completed the academy and goes on to enrol in physics at the University of Windsor in 2023 or 2024.

—Sara Elliott

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