January 15, 2017

First half of the seventh season of School for Young Physicists

This season marked the seventh anniversary of the main project of our YM section – the School for Young Physicists (SYP). Each month, around 200-250 students from schools all over Latvia gather in the University of Latvia for an entertaining Saturday and to learn some extracurricular physics.
Sessions are held each month, each with a different theme. Every session starts with two popular lectures, 40 minutes in duration, held by physics students of various levels in University of Latvia. In these lectures, topics that generally are not discussed in school are presented in an entertaining manner. Thereafter, participants take a 30-minute break and are treated to a lunch with sandwiches and tea. Then follows the practical part, in which students themselves put the things they’ve just learned to the test. Afterwards another break is held in which students are again treated with food, this time with sweets such as chocolate and cookies and tea. Lastly, a professor or a specialist in the topic is invited for a more in-depth lecture.
A competition called the "School cup" is also held during the season, in which teams of 5 students representing their school do creative tasks assigned to them to come out victorious. Eternal glory and different prizes await for the winners of this competition. This season, 15 different teams ar rivaling for the School cup.

On September 24, the seventh season was kicked off with a session titled "Mythologics" in which we discussed how using relatively simple knowledge of physics one can evaluate the plausability of different claims.
The session started with two popular lectures. First, Ģirts Zāģeris analyzed multiple scenes from popular movies and assessed whether, per laws of physics, they could occur in our Universe. Second, Oskars Sjomkāns engaged in a more philosophical discussion about physics itself.
In the practical part, students were tasked to evaluate the physics behind a scene from the popular animated movie "Up", in which a house was lifted using balloons filled with helium. They weighed how much a balloon filled with helium could lift and calculated how much force would be needed to pull a house off the ground. Further, they experimented to determine whether the model for the force required to pull out a pile from the ground was correct - after all, the model accepted a bold claim: that the ground can be described as a fluid putting pressure on the foundations of a house.
Lastly, in the in-depth lecture, a professor of the University of Latvia Ruvins Ferbers talked about how even the biggest of giants in science historically have made errors, some significant to the evolution of physics.

Our team with the helium balloons students used to determine whether one could lift a house with a lot of balloons

On October 15, the second session of SYP took place. This time, the physics of sound were the topic, and the session was titled "With a physical undertone".
Students were divided into two groups by age and three popular lectures were held. The younger group first listened to a crash-course of acoustics as they had not yet learned it in school, while the older group was introduced to concepts they too had not seen in school - Fourier transforms and how they are used day to day. Both of the groups later listened to a lecture about the wave nature of sound.
Later, the participants tried to make their own musical instrument. They measured and calculated the properties of rubber bands to make a string instrument that would produce a desired frequency of sound.
Lastly, Tija Sīle talked about how a sound waveguide forms in the depths of ocean that lets sound waves travel big distances with small losses of energy.
Students calculating the length they need to stretch a rubber band in order to get a desired tone

On the November 12, students gathered to participate in the third session of SYP7 which was titled "Transmitted!" and was about radioelectronics.
The session started as usual with two popular lectures. First, Ģirts Zāģeris explained the physical principles of radio transmission, everything from transmitting a signal to detecting it. Along the way, he explained what FM and AM stand for and what the numbers on the radio mean. In the second popular lecture, Juris Venčels very thoroughly went through all the components that reside in a radio and talked about their applications.
In the practical part, students partook in the assebly of their own radio receiver from simple electronics parts. They built a circuit that could recieve AM transmission that was generated by us in front of the auditorium.
Prof. Kaščejevs, giving his lecture on an LC circuit

In the in-depth lecture, eccentric professor Vjačeslavs Kaščejevs talked about the heart of the radio - an LC circuit. During the lecture, students learned where the transmitted waves originate, and Kaščejevs slightly touched upon Maxwell’s equations.

On December 10, the last session of the autumn semester was held. Titled "Calculate like a star", the topic for this session was astronomy.
It started off with two popular lectures. The first one, given by Elza Liniņa, dealt with the difficulties one faces when one wants to travel in space – starting with getting away from the gravitation of the Earth and then propelling oneself in empty space. In the second, lecture more fundamental cosmological topics were discussed by Mārtiņš Sandars – topics like space inflation and the curvature of space were discussed.
Later, in the practical part, students used parallax and their smarphone camers to calculate distances to various objects that were too far to reach, gaining insight in how astronomical measurements are made.

Lastly, a students' favorite Ģirts Zāģeris lead an in-depth lecture about the physics of black holes, looking at their mathematical origin and oddities that arise if one were to fall in a black hole.

Regional sessions of the School for Young Physicists-7

During the 7th season of SYP, our Young Minds section has continued to expand our efforts to bring physics education to areas that are further from the capital of Latvia. In addition to the destinations we visited in the past season (Valmiera, Kuldiga and Ventspils), we’ve added another large city to that mix – this year, Liepaja, our most southwestern city, has joined the fold.

Students experimenting during a visit in Valmiera

A variety of topics have been presented – sometimes, topics that have yet to premiere in the capital have test runs, other times, well established (and improved) topics are chosen. Across various cities, lectures on topics such as astronomy, acoustics and forensic science have been given.
Even if the topics repeat in different cities, the approach is often different, because the audience is different – in Kuldiga, it a smaller group of high school students, but in Ventspils, for example, it is a larger group of grade 8 – 9 students. To make the experience as entertaining and valuable as possible, we try to tailor each session to the audience that we’re visiting.
During this semester, the SYP team has visited Valmiera three times, Kuldiga twice, Ventspils twice and Liepaja once. Our aim is to continue holding  sessions  in these cities  in the second half of the school year as well, and plans for adding sessions in another city are in the works.

A group of students outside, after solving a mock crime scene

A new dimension – SYP workshops

Every year, our Young Minds section figures out a new direction in which to grow our School for Young Physicists project – this time, we began expanding our efforts beyond traditional sessions with lectures and tried building physics workshops at various events – such as town fairs, festivals and summer camps for children, even briefly appearing in a TV show.
Once the season ends in May, we have free time during the summer, and it can be put to good use. Our workshop activities especially ramped up towards the second half of summer 2016 – numerous towns invited us to fairs, we took part in the extreme sports festival “Playground”, appeared on a TV quiz for school students called “eXperiments”, took part in a project that merges humanitarian arts such as song and poetry with the precision of physics, and much more. In these workshops, we take a step away from our typical format, focusing more on the fun one has doing experiments and trying to raise interest in physics by way of the wow-factor. For this reason, we built gadgets such as a huge slingshot and assembled a spud gun.
A group of students doing a quest as part of our workshop in a summer camp
The workshops appear to have been a success, as we received more and more offers to host our workshops as the summer rolled on and transitioned into autumn. With the beginning of our school year season, these activities have toned down in intensity, but nevertheless happen from time to time. The second semester promises more workshop activities and physics demonstrations, as the yearly TV show will take place again in the spring season and a few other projects take place.
Experiment workshop in a town fair towards the end of summer

July 15, 2016

Physics workshop in festival "Playground"

From July 8-10 the members of the University of Latvia Young Minds Section participated in a sports, music and creativity festival named "Playground". The festival proved to be quite popular, garnering a turnout of a few thousand people. In the festival, our section operated a workshop in which attendants could take part in various physical demonstrations. The workshop attracted numerous people, young and old, most of whom had little day to day interaction with physics and science in general. Some were interested in the physical background of the experiments, while others were content with just witnessing the show.

Highlights of our demonstrations included:
  • potato cannons and a catapult which people could use to shoot at pre-made targets;
  • bottle rockets which could be launched in the air with pressure created by the release of CO2 from the reaction of baking soda with vinegar;
  • a mixture of corn starch and water, which changes its apparent viscosity depending on the way it is handled;
  • a demonstration with different color dyes that were placed inside glycerol, then slowly, carefully stirred until they seemed to have mixed. The dyes were then unmixed by stirring the liquid backwards;
  • an electronic 1 vs 1 reaction game set up on a breadboard and operated by Raspberry Pi;
  • the creation of dense mist by pouring water onto dry ice.

May 29, 2016

A look back at the 6th season of SYP

Along with the school year, the School for Young Physicists has finished its season as well. Nine different, fun and educational sessions took place in the University of Latvia Faculty of Physics and Mathematics on the following topics:

-forensic physics
-biological physics
-centripetal force
-statistical physics
-liquid physics
-elementary particle physics

Each session was attended by an average of 150 students from different schools of Latvia who arrived to listen to popular science lectures from physics students, conduct some fun experiments and learn from the very best in lectures given by professors and specialists of the field. 

A season-long competition was also held - the School Cup. To contend for it, students were tested on their knowledge after every session and also had to make videos of different topics as homework. Their work was graded after every session and a  scoreboard was kept and regularly updated. The competition was tough but in the end the first place was awarded to the Riga State 1st Gymnasium team "Nucleus and Electrons". The top teams and individual performers were awarded with gifts from our supporters.

Winners of the School Cup
The team of School for Young physicists also visited the best regional schools in Latvia for external sessions. We visited Valmiera State Gymnasium, Ventspils 1st State Gynmnasium and Kuldīga Gymnasium, thus offering the children to attend the sessions without having the need to travel the long distance to Riga. You can read more about it here.

All the materials and reviews can be found here: www.jfs.lv

Looking back at Developments in Optics and Communications 2016

A little earlier than usual - just before Easter -, from the 21st to 23rd of March, the 12th International student and young scientist conference “Developments in Optics and Communications 2016” (DOC 2016) was held in Riga. It gathered many brilliant young scientists from different countries to share their scientific work, insights and experiences in various fields related to optics: vision science, optical materials, biophotonics, laser physics and spectroscopy.

DOC 2016 participants - sections of Laser physics and Optical Materials
Each topic also featured an invited speaker that shared their experience with the young scientists. This year from Latvia – Dr. Mara Reinfelde talked about “Practical application of holography” for the Laser Physics and Spectroscopy section, University of Latvia OSA student chapter advisor Dr. Florian Gahbauer gave an amazing speech on the topic of “Magnetic sensing with nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres in synthetic diamond”. The conference organizers from both SPIE and OSA student chapters had also invited speakers from Israel and Finland to talk about their research.

Dr. Mara Reinfelde giving her speech
Dr. Florian Gahbauer giving his speech
Dr. Igor Meglinski was invited to tell students about “Cloud Monte Carlo for the needs of biomedical optics” for the biophotonics section and Prof. Zeev Zalevsky from Israel gave a speech about “Super resolved and extended depth of focus concepts for remote and ophthalmic imaging systems” for vision science students. Students were so engaged in Prof. Zalevsky’s speech that it took almost an extra 20 minutes just to answer all the questions and give in-depth explanations of his work.
Dr. Igor Meglinski
Prof. Zeev Zalevsky
Traditionally the best poster and the best oral presentation are given an award for their work funded by University of Latvia OSA student chapter, and this year was no exception. The best speech award was given to Janis Smits for his talk “Deconvolution - a tool for enhanced resolution magnetic images” and the best poster was presented by Andris Antuzevics (“Structure of Gd3+ ions in oxyfluoride glass ceramics containing fluorite crystallites”).

Janis Smits - prizewinner of best speech award
Andris Antuzevics - owner of the best poster
This year was special also because of the conference venue. The conference was held in the newly built Academic Center for Natural Sciences of the University of Latvia (ULACNS) in Tornakalns. ULACNS opened its doors on September 7th, 2015. It was hoped that relocating to the new UL ACNS would create unprecedented opportunities for cooperation between scientific fields and study programs. And indeed it was an amazing experience to listen to talks and admire posters in the new building. The premises on the 7th floor provided an amazing view over Riga for every attendee to enjoy. The staff were also kind enough to allow conference guests to enjoy the view from the rooftop.

ULACNS rooftop
The conference was not only an event to present one’s work and listen to others, but also a way to meet fellow physicists in an informal environment. Since the best collaboration ideas are usually born while discussing various topics outside the conference rooms, this year a friendly paint-ball tournament for the conference participants was held.

Paint-ball tournament day
We would like to thank members of the SPIE and OSA student chapters from the University of Latvia for all their hard work, “OPTEK” for their financial support, and Igor Meglinski as well as Zeev Zalevsky for coming to Latvia and giving their awesome lectures.

(This report was written by Elza Linina, a member of the OSA and SPIE student chapters - thank you!)

Regional SYP sessions

The School for Young Physicists project that our Young Minds section organizes not only held monthly sessions in the capital of our country this season, but also held regular sessions in other regions as well. Namely, this season we visited schools in Valmiera, Kuldīga and Ventspils.

Regional sessions take place two or three times a semester in each location. Students from surrounding schools are given the chance to attend a free lecture course - usually session topics that have already been tested in our main events are chosen, but sometimes they get a premier look at a new topic that has not yet been presented anywhere else.

Topics discussed this season in regional sessions include, but are not limited to, probability in physics, electronics and wave optics. Students had the opportunity to conduct experiments normally not done in schools - for example, they determined the distance between the pixels in their own smartphones, or calculated the value of pi by dropping buckwheat on a piece of paper.

Students determining the value of pi experimentally
These regional sessions are educating not only for the students attending - teachers also find inspiration in these non-standard topics and experiments, and materials for use in lessons are often left at schools that are visited for the teachers to use free of charge.

Our Young Minds sector views these regional sessions as valuable opportunities for children that live far away from the capital to get a chance for extra curricular informal learning, so we will give our best efforts to expand in this direction next season.

Visiting teacher looks on as his student works on an electronics experiment