In this edition of the Friday Newsletter, we preview the first Speaker Series event of the term and announce the pause of unstructured social events in the department to help inhibit the spread of Omicron. Check out the Physics Challenge, now open to faculty, staff, SMU SPS members, and physics students!
CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
“Back in the Saddle Again”
What a week. The COVID notifications from students are rolling in. We’re pumping with adrenaline after teaching those first classes. Somebody dumped a haphazard mix of joy, relief, anxiety, fear, and determination into a blender and hit puree, then poured it in a glass and called it “Spring 2022.”
I made it clear to the faculty that while we are teaching in-person, as we did in Fall 2021, we have to be ready to pivot if an instructor becomes ill. As a writer in The Washington Post said recently, the Omicron variant is not an individual crisis but a societal one. A single individual, especially those fully vaccinated, has little to fear from Omicron compared to earlier variants (it still isn’t fun to get sick with it, as victims of the virus attest). The incredible spread of this variant, however, generates an integral over a large number of small effects. The resulting sum has a terrible impact on society.
This can also be felt in the academy. Students are getting sick or testing positive and having to quarantine, disrupting their learning. A faculty member who falls ill, or whose family member falls ill, finds themselves in quarantine. This puts an entire class into some measure of disruption. In our department, a faculty member who is so affected can notify me of the problem and then either identify a colleague to replace them briefly in the classroom (by mutual consent) or move the class online for brief remote instruction. In all cases, I also notify the Dean so that everyone in the College in in the loop.
Students are obviously affected. We’re seeing it all over the place: illness, quarantine, anxiety … detracting from their ability to function in the classroom. A little mercy on the part of a faculty member will build a large reserve of trust for later. Try to record your class period and share that so absent students can still be connected to the classroom. Use Zoom to connect them in real time, if they are well enough and able to do so. Make slides, notes, etc. available. Excuse absences if you have a strict attendance policy. These things are not the difference between an A and an F in a course, but they are the difference between a relationship of trust and one of mutual distrust.
We will get through it. It won’t be fun. It may not be pretty. It will be challenging. But we will get through this. Mask up to slow or prevent the spread. Inoculate yourself against the worst effects with vaccines and boosters, as the schedule allows. Socially distance when you can. The learning must go forward. To ensure that, we have to be willing to again sacrifice something else … for a little while.
This week, we have a nice short edition of the newsletter. We preview the first Speaker Series event of the term and announce the pause of unstructured social events in the department to help inhibit the spread of Omicron. Check out the Physics Challenge, now open to faculty, staff, SMU SPS members, and physics students!
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
Physics Department Casual Social Events Again On Hold — This Time Due to the Omicron Wave
The Department Chair announced at the beginning of this week that the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will necessitate a pause in casual Department-sponsored social events. These are the Friday Department Lunch and the Wednesday “Hbar Coffee Bar.” Department leadership will watch the case counts on campus and review this pause starting in mid-February. Experts suggest the peak of the Omicron variant wave in the DFW region should peak in the next two weeks, but we can expect the decline in cases (while rapid, based on observational evidence from other nations) should take about a month or so.
Structured social events with a fixed guest list, like the monthly graduate student lunches, are permitted to continue so long as the faculty organizer requests a waiver from the Department Chair if they wish to have Department funds support the event. The event must have a controlled guest list to be approved.
The Department Speaker Series will continue, as it can be conducted in a hybrid format. Snacks will continue to be available in FOSC 16 before the speaker series event (they become available around 3:30pm on Mondays when there is an event). Guests are requested to grab a snack and take it up to FOSC 123, where talks are held, to provide for more social distancing opportunities than are possible in FOSC 16.
Department Speaker Series Resumes on Monday, January 24 with Prof. Joel Meyers Speaking on “New Opportunities and New Challenges with Upcoming CMB Surveys”
The Department is pleased to resume the hybrid Physics Speaker Series with a kickoff event featuring our own Prof. Joel Meyers. Prof. Meyers was on an approved leave from teaching to focus on his research in Fall 2021, and his talk, entitled “New Opportunities and New Challenges with Upcoming CMB Surveys,” will not only survey these things but also highlight his work during his leave.
By the way, this is not a trick! Back in the fall, the Department (with the consent and involvement of Dr. Meyers) used this subject to create a fake seminar that turned out to be a cover for a surprise party for one of our staff. This time, the speaker event is totally real. We swear!
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.
- SMU Employees: SMU is now offering additional testing options on-campus for COVID-19. ” … on-site testing for COVID-19 will be available at no cost for SMU employees and spouses and their dependents at an east campus location. MyLabsDirect is providing PCR testing from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday at a drive-up parking site at Expressway Towers on 6116 North Central Expressway. MyLabsDirect also offers drive-up testing at several sites in the DFW area with no appointment required.” In addition, “SMU’s health benefits provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX), is providing coverage for at-home COVID-19 tests, as required by the federal government…” See the email announcement for all the details! (“New COVID-19 test options available today for SMU employees,” from the SMU Information email account. January 20, 2022)
- Graduate Students: The Moody Schools has announced a really great event for students wanting to see what early life as a faculty member is like. “University Life as a New Faculty Member” will show you what those first steps into being your own boss in academia actually look like. “On Wednesday, Feb. 2, from 12-1pm, [the Moody School] will be holding a graduate student professional development workshop on University Life as a New Faculty Member, led by Dr. Paige Ware, SMU’s Associate Provost for Faculty Success.” See the email announcement for details. (“Graduate Professional Development Workshop, “University Life as a New Faculty Member,” Feb. 2, 12-1pm….” sent by the SMU Grad email account. January 20, 2022)
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!
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!
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 January 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 an SMU Physics faculty member, staff member, or student (Ph.D. or Master’s candidate, SMU SPS member, Physics Major or Minor, or Biophysical Science Major) will be awarded a prize. You needn’t be a Physics major or minor to be a member of the SPS, and all students with an interest in physics are encouraged to join the SMU SPS. Prof. Scalise can help you with that!
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.