July 14, 2019

Season 9 of SYP - a look back

This past academic year already the ninth season of SYP took place. It was a success – it continued the body of work done in previous years with turnout remaining stable at a strong 200 students each session. Furthermore, it seems that our team is also improving the quality of sessions, as this year posted the highest average mark for each session as graded by students.
Most sessions this season were quite outside of typically discussed topics in school – for example, we had sessions on explosion physics, cold physics, nanophysics, fluid dynamics and even symmetries and fractals. Highlights of experiments include observing the transition between laminar and turbulent flow, finding the fractal dimension of Latvia’s contour and building a model of a car’s dashpot amortization. During that session, a professional racer also headlined the final lecture of the session.
Furthermore, this year also saw continued collaboration with other cities beyond the capital of Riga. SYP regularly visited Kuldiga, Ventspils and Valmiera for special sessions. Agreements are already in place to continue this tradition next year.
Our team has also looked for outreach opportunities beyond the classroom, and therefore SYP also took part in the 2nd Physics Festival in Riga, and helped organize the European Physics Olympiad, which took place in Riga this year. Right now, during the summer, some members of our team represent SYP in various educational camps by giving lectures on topics in physics, mathematics and programming.
The annual School Cup also took place for the fourth time, with the team "Karaliskā gvarde" from Riga State Gymnasium No. 1 claiming first place with a commanding lead over the rest of the competition. Congratulations to them!
This year was also unique because SYP (and the rest of the department) changed its home to a new, modern building! Our new facilities allow us to better accommodate the large numbers with spacious and contemporary equipment. We are excited to return to work in September, when we will be able to fully utilize the advantages provided to us by our new home.

February 12, 2019

SYP has a new home!

In February, the monthly session of SYP took place in a new place for the first time in nine years. The University of Latvia has built a brand new building called the Science building – it is meant for students of the department of Physics and Mathematics, students of the department of Medicine and a series of scientific institutes. It is a state of the art building, providing a very pleasant upgrade in technical quality to the sessions of SYP.
The inaugural session on the new building dealt with mathematical physics – a challenging topic indeed. However, the new apartments were just in time for a difficult topic like this – large, spacious auditoriums with multiple screens and slidable blackboards allowed for the mentally challenging topics to be covered as well as possible. The final lecture was also a treat – it happened in the conference hall with plenty of space, a large screen and in-built audio systems that the lecturer can use with a microphone to make sure everyone can hear him well.

Another thing was new in this session – our fellow physics students from Lithuania were gracious enough to come over and visit, and also give a lecture in English. This proved to be popular among students, who have a limited exposure to physics education in English.
We are very glad to have a new, modern building to continue our work in. If the smiles of students after the session were any indication, they enjoyed it as well.

Season 9 of SYP enjoys continued success

In September 2018, already the ninth season of the School for Young Physicists went underway. The season began literally with a bang – the first session was about the physics of explosions, which had students blowing up small scale pyrotechnics in the park and trying to determine the energy they release. As autumn set on and the weather got colder, so did the topics covered – in October, cold physics was the topic of the month. In that session, the star was prof. Vyacheslavs Kashcheyevs, who gave a lecture on Bose-Einstein condensate, which (despite not understanding much of it) every student loved. In November and December topics about nanophysics and experimental physics were covered respectively. These sessions were more about contemporary physics, showing students the landscape of modern physics. Participants also had a chance to try out Arduino microcontrollers in their experiments to create electronic measuring devices – a relative novelty in schools, but a mainstay in modern experimental physics.

Together with season 9 the annual School Cup also began – for the fourth year already. Just like last year, teams of students representing their schools compete throughout the season by earning points for their team. Points can be earned by filling out tests each session and by completing homework tasks (a total of four during the course of the season). Students appear to enjoy the contest – north of ten teams fight hard for positions in the rankings. Students also enjoy the homework tasks – a highlight, for example, was solving Fermi problems, which was something completely out of left field for students who do not encounter anything like it in school.
All in all, the first half of SYP season 9 has been successful, continuing where season 8 left off.

July 15, 2018

The first physics festival in Latvia takes place

This year, our Young Minds section participated in the first ever physics festival in Latvia - an event solely for the popularization of physics and science for the public. Almost all groups that do physics outreach were gathered in the same venue - which means our team was also their. Multiple experiment workshops were set up, and a competition for middle-schoolers also took place. The event was a success, as the amount of visitors from the general public attending went up to a few thousand.

Children enjoying experiments during the Physics festival
The event was well covered - it garnered enough attention for some TV and radio coverage. Feedback from the public was very positive, and that means this will be no one hit wonder - another festival for physics is in the works for next year, and our section will certainly attend next year as well.

Strong finish to season 8 for SYP

One more year for SYP has finished, and the upward trajectory for student interest has steadily held up. In the beginning of the year, we reported record numbers of attendance, and that continued throughout the entire season.

Students listening to instructions in a session

In addition to crowd-pleasing topics we looked at in the first semester, the second semester featured sessions on constructional physics, electronics, solid state physics, food physics and, finally, chaos theory. Highlights from these sessions include building model houses and testing them against shaking to imitate an earthquake and even advanced lectures in chaos theory and solid state physics that touched on master's level physics, and yet students enjoyed them immensely.

The 3rd School Cup competition also came to a close, and it was essentially a photo-finish. Teams battled for points until the final session, and the winning team beat out their rivals only by one point - to give perspective, the total point count for the winning team was about 300 points. Teams from various schools showed their mettle all year, performing well on tests as well as showing ability in the four creative extra tasks that were given to them. The best teams were also awarded prizes for their hard work.

Our organizer team with the best teams of the School Cup
 Additionally to the main sessions, regional sessions in cities were also still held - more than ever. Cities of Valmiera, Ventspils, Rezekne and Liepaja saw numerous sessions take place - and Rezekne even had 7 sessions, which is only two less than in our capital!

All in all, the 8th season of SYP was a resounding success, and we will look to keep building on this success to increase our output and outreach even more, allowing more students to see that physics education can be fun indeed!

January 14, 2018

SYP continues to expand across the country

This semester, our team has not only facilitated the ever-growing sessions in Latvia’s capital, Riga, but also slightly expanded our reach across the country. Previously, we only held sessions in Valmiera, Kuldiga and Ventspils, but now a new city has joined the fold – we will also hold sessions in the regional center Rezekne. 

The schools that we’ve visited thus far have all shown willingness to continue to work together, and have asked if classes for younger students than Grade 10 are available. As a consequence, our team also occassionally hosts tailor-made sessions for the younger students, involving them as well.

Kids across the country enjoy our style of teaching physics

We’ve also done numerous projects that are directly not connected with our sessions – our team has constructed a physics prop (a large scale wave pendulum) for a TV show and taken part in creating exhibitions for museums (specifically, an interactive stand about the working principles of a light bulb, a phone and communications systems). Slowly but surely, SYP is garnering a reputation for being able to present physics in an interesting, educational and simple manner not only to high school students, but to people of all ages and walks of life.

The future outlook looks good as well, with annual projects looking to be repeated and a few new ventures lined up on our calendars.

Another record semester for the School for Young Physicists

This semester, SYP kicked off its 8th season in style. In September, the main topic was military physics, and the session was very special. For starters, the topic garnered great interest from students, and a capacity number of 320 (!) students attended, which was a monumental increase over the previous record of 250 people. Managing such a large crowd is a great challenge, but our organizing team did a splendid job in making sure everyone was attended to.

However, this was not the only extraordinary thing to happen – after the popular lectures, the experimental part had students doing all kinds of military related things, for example – decoding messages and working with electronic sonar detectors, but the main attraction was shooting with paintball guns and analyzing the trajectory of the paintballs experimentally and theoretically.

Representatives from the Canadian army arriving at the season opener session

Even this was not the most surprising thing to happen – for the last in-depth lecture we had a representative from the Latvian Army and two Canadian army officers – one a PhD in physics – who gave lectures about their everyday work and the role of physics in it. This event caught enough attention that the Army sent over a reporter crew to film the entire process, which was a first for SYP.

Signals Officer from Quebec giving his lecture to the audience

After the first session, attendance rates remained very high, stabilizing at 250 attendees for every session until December. In later sessions, we looked at  radioactivity and nuclear physics, at chemical physics and at thermal physics. In all cases, students learned something outside of the school curriculum. Highlights include a popular lecture introducing students to the topic of quantum physics in chemistry and an experiment with colored ice cubes visually demonstrating the effects of convention in a glass of water.

We’ve also commenced the third year of our School Cup competition, allowing teams of students to represent their schools during the season and compete for prizes at the end of the year. Each year, we try to add new quirks to the competition, and this year the homework tasks have been revamped to be more fun for the teams involved. At the end of the semester, we also conducted a team quiz for teams to get a chance to score extra points.

Altogether, the first semester of SYP’s 8th season has been a record-setting one, and we look forward to keeping the upward trend going in 2018.

Students observing convection visualized via colored ice cubes