In this edition of the Friday Newsletter, we celebrate a student accepted to the CUWiP Conference at Tulane and look at the restart of the Astrophysics/Cosmology Journal Club!
CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
“Who Moved My Stickers?”
Last Friday’s joy at the celebration of Dark Matter Day at SMU was tarnished a bit over the weekend. Coming back to the office on Monday, we were frustrated and disheartened to learn that someone had taken at least one of the remaining Dark Matter Day prizes for themselves between Friday and Monday.
We know this because we counted the prizes on Friday afternoon, after spending an hour walking the campus to retrieve the un-returned dark matter rocks. Although 9 rocks never got turned in, we only found 2 in their original hiding spots. We were already aware that some “double-dipping” occurred from the prize bucket on Friday; we started the day with 26 prizes but, after 17 rocks had been turned in, we had fewer than 9 prizes remaining. While we walked the campus collecting rocks, we made a plan to be ready for people to come in late this week and claim prizes, so we would need extra prizes beyond the original 26. I will note that faculty donated some of these prizes, meaning that they dipped into their own pockets and handed over prize items with no expectation of reimbursement.
Double-dipping is not the issue, of course. People double-dip on candy buckets on Halloween … we can head that off with a little more training for the volunteers who sit in the office on Dark Matter Day waiting for people to turn in rocks and claim prizes. Much more concerning is that, between Friday and Monday, somebody dipped into the prize bucket and took something that wasn’t theirs … the prize count was even lower on Monday.
The Main Office is locked overnight and during the weekends, which means it takes a key to get in. I am not looking for a career as a detective, but what this tells me is that someone in the SMU community with key access did this.
Theft from the Main Office, petty or otherwise, is not new. Of course, the Department provides office supplies for general use. These are stored in the cabinets along the east wall, and on bookshelves by the east wall. Everything else in the Main Office is for use by permission of the staff only. For example, in the metal cabinets behind the desks, you should always ask permission to go in there and get something. Some of those cabinets are expressly locked to protect the most vital resources. The dark matter day prizes did not get locked up before we left – the office staff was all gone by then and those of us who walked the campus to retrieve rocks were exhausted. Foo on us, I guess.
For all the years I have been at SMU, something invariably goes missing from the Main Office. For example, a few years ago a large package was stolen from behind the main office desk area. It had been placed there for the receiving person, to keep it out of the way. Later it was gone, and the receiving person was not the one who took it. It is because of things like this that the staff and I began a discussion about revamping the Main Office “Complex” (FOSC 103 and 102) this year, a process that necessarily moves ahead slowly so we carefully plan the changes.
Which brings me to my final point. Community requires trust, and petty theft undermines trust in the most pernicious way. Not taking something that isn’t yours is usually an early lesson in life, and one which applies to shared office situations as well as to any other. The Department is happy to provide things if you need them … just ask. Asking is better than taking, especially when it’s not clear something is earmarked for general use. Err on the side of assuming something in a shared space is not yours.
In his famous book “Who Moved My Cheese?“, a parable for handling changes, Spencer Johnson tells the tale of two mice and two “littlepeople” who search for cheese in a maze (all of this is metaphors … surprise!). One day, they come upon a huge storehouse of the stuff. They set up home there, supported by a seemingly endless supply of cheese. Of course, inevitably, the cheese is depleted. The resilient characters anticipated this moment and resolved to set out in search of new cheese; it was never theirs to begin with, after all. The characters who felt entitled to the cheese in the first place – as if it was always theirs – utter the phrase, “Who moved my cheese?” and insist on remaining in place. It’s in this event – adapting to the reality of the situation and letting go of entitlement – that the story of change and growth begins. A key mistake, of course, was a misguided sense of sole ownership to something that was not theirs in the first place.
We can’t know who took the stickers, but we do know they were not for general use (they were on a table with all the dark matter rocks). We know that the prizes were purchased or donated with the intent to reward people who participated in the dark matter rock hunt, which concluded by the time the Main Office was locked on Friday. If this was someone in the Department, I hope they merely return the ill-gotten gains – no questions asked. Better to see the error of one’s ways than never to see them at all. On the other hand, if it was someone with a key from outside the department, I hope they enjoy the stickers and I pray that they don’t move on to bigger, future theft targets.
As I said, this is a tarnish on the silver of Dark Matter Day. I hope this tale of petty theft makes its point: undermining a community often begins with many small violations of trust. One of those violations is taking things from a shared space that are not explicitly marked for common use.
Let’s move on to more positive things. In this week’s edition of the Friday Newsletter, we look at the resumption of the Astrophysics/Cosmology Journal Club and celebrate Lauren Horton, who was accepted to the CUWiP Conference at Tulane University!
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
Astronomy/Cosmology Journal Club Resumes Nov. 15
The Astrophysics and Cosmology Journal Club resumes its brown-bag lunch meetings on November 15 with a discussion led by Prof. Bob Kehoe. The discussion will center on a paper focused on the modeling of galaxies in dark matter halos. People interested in volunteering to lead a discussion on a topic of their own interest are invited to do so.
The series’ information is maintained using the astrohep.org Dokuwiki site, https://astrohep.org/smu/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=astro_journal_club. This page should be open to view, but only site users can edit it. Members of the department can register for an account on the site, which must be approved manually by the site administrator.
As indicated in his email to the department about the resumption of the journal club,
[It] has been a valuable place for interested colleagues to come together and discuss new results or news in the wide spectrum of science from astronomy to cosmology and particle astrophysics, or to discuss recent progress in your own research. We benefit from the great prior work from Rob Calkins and Profs. Meyers and Cooley in developing and coordinating this forum.Prof. Bob Kehoe, message to the Department on November 5, 2021
Physics Faculty Meeting on Monday, Nov. 8 at 4pm
The faculty of the department will have their next meeting on Monday, Nov. 8 at 4pm in FOSC 123. Information, including an agenda, were sent out by the Chair today. The meeting will focus on discussion of two items, one bearing on reforms to the undergraduate curriculum and the other on graduate recruitment to our PhD program.
No Department Speaker Series Event on Monday, Nov. 8
There is no Department Speaker Series event on November 8. The series resumes on Nov. 15.
Learn more: https://www.physics.smu.edu/web/seminars/
All past speaker series events since August 2020 are available in our YouTube playlist.
What’d I Miss?
We all get too many emails from the University and College. Here are a few things you might have missed this week.
- All: Dallas County is now operating at COVID-19 “Orange Level,” down from “Red Level” where is has been for quite some time. “Dallas County has moved from level “Red” to “Orange”, which indicates a moderate risk of community transmission and follows a decrease in positive cases … Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reduced Dallas County from an area of ‘high transmission’ to ‘substantial transmission.’ This designation means over the past seven days, the county has reported fewer than 100 total new cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests is below 10%.” As of the notice of this from SMU on Monday, “On-campus active cases have remained at a dozen or below since mid-October, and currently, no one is in quarantine or isolation.” All good news, but the pandemic is not over and COVID-19 still affects many people every day. Continued cautionary action is warranted – and if you have not already done so, vax-up … this stops or slows the spread of the virus while protecting you and the people around you from the worst effects. (“COVID-19 Update – Dallas County Moves to level ‘Orange’,” SMU Information, November 1, 2021)
- Students: The Provost’s student-focused weekly message reminded SMU student scholars that they have a gathering place on campus: the Scholar’s Den. Many students in our physics programs are also scholars, and are reminded of this resource on campus. “The Scholar’s Den is a unique space made for studying, group work, informal meetings, or even taking a short nap between classes. SMU has a wide range of scholars groups: Hilltop Scholars, Hunt Leadership Scholars, President’s Scholars, Rotunda Scholars, University Honors Program, and Dedman College Scholars. Stop by to say hello and learn more. You are always welcome to reserve one of our spaces to meet with students. Scholars Den is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, in the basement of Clements Hall.” (“Weekly Update – October 29, 2021”, Provost Loboa, October 29, 2021)
- Faculty: Final exams must be conducted in-person this semester, even if the students can take the exam electronically. This policy was agreed upon by Associate Deans and Provosts, who wrestled with this question raised by the faculty. The announcement of this indicated that the good standing of accreditation of the university relies on meeting the obligation of the in-person learning process, including final exams. See the announcement of this for some examples of in-person/digitial modalities that meet the requirement. Student questions about this should be directed to the Provost’s office. (“Questions answered about online finals this semester,” sent by Associate Provost for Faculty Success Paige Ware, November 1, 2021)
- Faculty: Your presence around and support for students is appreciated and noticed. To make more routine your participation in university events that host faculty and students, here are some tips: “Students truly appreciate when faculty they know attend university sponsored events. To add them to your calendar please follow these links for the schedule of events for Meadows Performances, Athletic Events, and student sponsored activities. Alternatively, you can request to join email mail lists and have upcoming activities delivered straight to your in-box.” (“Weekly Update – October 29, 2021”, Provost Loboa, October 29, 2021)
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of your activities in research, the classroom, and beyond are very welcome!
Call for Sam Taylor Fellowships for 2022
This week, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church announced its annual call for applications for the Sam Taylor Fellowships. These awards are provided by an endowment established to fund education and development of faculty members at United Methodist-related colleges and universities in Texas.
Many members of the SMU faculty have successfully competed for these awards, which offer up to $2,000 for academic work, study, or initiatives focused on intellectual, social, or religious life. I encourage you to consider applying for this award after reviewing the guidelines …Each application requires a letter of support from President Turner so our internal deadline for applications will be Friday, November 19. My office will work directly with the President’s office to secure a letter of support for completed applications. Please note that completed applications should include a letter of support from your Dean.
Please send any questions and completed applications per the guideline attached (including a letter of support from the Dean) to the Office of Faculty Success at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, November 19.Provost Loboa, “:Call For Sam Taylor Fellowships 2022,” sent November 3, 2021
See the announcement for the flyer, which contains information about how to apply.
The department staff continue to work on behalf of Academic Operations (Lacey Breaux) and Research Operations (Michele Hill). They can be contacted for assistance, or to make appointments for input and help, through the Department Main Office (FOSC 102).
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of students in research, the classroom, internships or fellowships, awards, etc. are very welcome!
Physics Minor Lauren Horton Selected to Participate in the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Tulane University
Lauren Horton was selected to participate in the annual Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), hosted by the American Physical Society (APS). The event closest to Dallas is located at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, and runs from January 21-23. 2022.
Lauren is a senior earning a B.S. in Computer Science with a Cyber Security Specialization, with a Physics minor. She is also concurrently working on her M.S. in Cybersecurity. She is a member of Lyle Ambassadors, the Society of Women Engineers, the SMU Cyber Security Club, and the Society of Physics Students. She is committed to both academic and residential and student life, serving as President of her Residential Commons and as Secretary for The Hill, SMU’s Baptist Student Ministry. Lauren writes, “I am passionate about theater and history and I play soccer. I love to travel and am happiest learning new things!”
The Department is pleased to be able to support student travel to important events like this one. CUWiP is not only an opportunity to learn about research, but also about navigating science careers. It also provides invaluable opportunities to meet new people from across institutions and develop professional networks. While the conference provides support for lodging and food, travel and registration are covered by the Department. We encourage students to make us aware of their interests in such conferences and workshops and invite discussions about partial or complete support for participation in them.
For more information about CUWiP at Tulane University, see their website:
If you are an alum of the doctoral, masters, majors or minor programs in Physics at SMU, or have worked in our program as a post-doctoral researcher, and wish to share news with the community, please send your story to the Physics Department and we’ll work with you to get it included in a future edition.
THE BACK PAGE
The Physics Teacher’s November Physics Challenge!
Society of Physics Students Faculty Advisor and our department’s informal “Puzzle Master,” Prof. Randy Scalise, invites you to try to solve this month’s physics challenge from The Physics Teacher. The first correct solution he receives (email@example.com) from a student member of our Society of Physics Students will be awarded a prize. Join our SPS chapter today to make yourself eligible! (contact Dr. Scalise if you want to do this – you needn’t be a physics major or minor to join the SPS).
Fun fact: Prof. Scalise is again noted in The Physics Teacher (see below) as one of the people contributing correct solutions to these challenge problems, cementing again his position as “puzzle master” for this activity!
For now, the prizes continue (unclaimed!) to be the same as last year. The winner will get to select from the following four books,
- Gleick, J. “Chaos: Making a New Science“.
- Crease, R. P. and Mann, Charles C. “The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics“.
- Thorne, K. “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy“.
- Greene, B. “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality“.
Solutions must be complete enough to understand your strategy, reasoning, and methods; providing answers with no explanations are not acceptable. Dr. Scalise urges submitters who believe they have the correct answer to, of course, also submit their solution to The Physics Teacher using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to follow the journal’s guidelines for submissions (see below). The deadline is the last day of this month.