In this edition of the Friday Newsletter, we remind the community about how to use shared workspaces in the department and remind everyone of the pause on the Wednesday Hbar Coffee break and Friday Department Lunches.
CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
“The Future is Now!”
Every generation has its moment when you realize the future has arrived. For me, it was when computers shrunk to the size of a book. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Starfleet crew members walked around holding PADDs – handheld computers linked to the central computer core of the ship – and wielded tricorders that flipped open and provided an array of sensors and information in the palm of your hand.
By the time I went to college, I was in possession of a black-and-white Intel 386-based laptop that I got second-hand. It had no battery life, but I could carry it with me, plug it in, and write papers somewhere other than my dorm room desk. In high school, I learned electronics because, in part, because I wanted to make a small, hand-held communicator. Laptops appeared in the 1990s in formats and cost ranges that made them more accessible to a middle-class kid like me. Nevertheless, I was still lucky to have a second-hand one.
That small computer was my “future is now moment.” Food delivery on campus by self-navigating robots may be the modern equivalent.
When I first saw the “Starship SMU” delivery robots on campus at the beginning of term, I was so excited that I followed one around just to watch it work. I didn’t know it at the time, but if they encounter a person (they have a bunch of cameras on them to help them see and navigate) they will stop and say something polite. They can not only bring food from the student center (for example) to Fondren Science Building, they know the difference between a lamp post and a person.
I finally got a chance to try the delivery service yesterday. I purchased two tacos from Cinco Taco in the student center and 20 minutes later they arrived. I went outside accompanied by Michele Hill, our Research Operations Coordinator, and retrieved the food (I was late to pick up the order, and through the mobile app on my phone the robot let me know to go outside and get my food).
As I closed the compartment on the robot and indicated I had concluded my order, a student walked by and exclaimed something to the effect of, “The future is here!”
On the walk back to the Physics Main Office, Michele noted correctly that eventually the novelty will wear off. People will either still be using this technology as a practical normality, or they will abandon it because it was only ever novel. I would add to this that this technology is also helping us, as human beings, become comfortable with the concept of a self-navigating mobile object. Today: food delivery. Tomorrow: commuting to work.
In my own field, I remember the arguments of the 1990s about using neural networks to perform data analysis. The fights were fierce but, as usual, the field finally narrowed things down to the only question that matters: can this technique be validated by independent methods? In the modern era, deep learning has gone through the same process: the trepidation of 5 years ago has turned into acceptance – even enthusiasm – and a right focus on validating the technology rather than fretting about its existence.
Will food-delivering robots validate the bigger promise of this technology: on-demand self-navigating transportation? For now, I am just happy I can get tacos delivered to the front steps of Fondren Science Building.
In this issue of the Friday newsletter, we remind the community about how to use shared workspaces in the department and remind everyone of the pause on the Wednesday Hbar Coffee break and Friday Department Lunches.
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
REMINDER: Physics Department Casual Social Events On Hold
The Department Chair announced at the beginning of the term 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.
Now that the Department is mostly back to a somewhat normal life, even as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, it’s a good time to remind everyone about shared work room spaces. These are rooms 38, 103, and 206 in Fondren Science Building. Each is home to printers and/or copying machines, light office equipment and supplies, a kitchen and fridge, and other amenities like microwaves and coffee machines.
When you use any of the shared printing or copying equipment, please follow these guidelines:
- Retrieve your copies/prints in a timely fashion, to avoid items stacking up on the machines and/or getting mixed up in other peoples’ materials. Jobs that are left on or near the printer for more than a day or two will likely be disposed of in a recycling bin.
- If your job causes paper to run out and you can find no more paper in the room, notify the Main Office staff or simply retrieve more paper from FOSC 102 (the Main Office) and bring it to the work room to restock. It is still a good idea to let the office staff know so they can make sure enough paper has been stocked for you and other people.
When you use any of the shared kitchen equipment, please follow these guidelines:
- For appliances where messes/spills are possible, please make sure to clean up after you use the equipment. For example, if there is a coffee or tea spill, a water puddle, or a food spill, clean it up. Kitchens are shared spaces with no single custodian, so each of us must take responsibility for ourselves and our messes.
- Microwaves should be used with food covered. Cook food in microwave-safe containers with the lid loosened to allow steam to escape. If cooking food on an open plate, cover the food and the plate with a paper towel. Always check the interior of the microwave for food splatter after cooking and clean up any mess, no matter how small, made by the cooking process. It is a good idea to leave the door ajar to avoid trapping food odors in the microwave oven, and make sure you have cleared the cook time if you removed food before the countdown completes.
For issues that require a university custodian to attend, please submit a custodial request using STABLE. For reference, Fondren Science’s building code is 101 (this location code quickly brings up FOSC as the target building). Such issues might include over-full garbage cans or a large spill or other slip hazard. If there are printing issues, submit a help ticket to OIT. For plumbing issues, submit a plumbing request using STABLE. To report broken equipment that is provided by the Department, contact the Main Office staff to report any issues.
No Speaker Series Event on January 31 due to a Department Faculty Meeting
There is no Department Speaker Series talk scheduled for January 31 due to a monthly Department Faculty Meeting.
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.
- Graduate Students: Graduate students can now charter official student organizations at SMU. For more information, see this week’s Moody School newsletter! (“Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Newsletter 1.27.2022,” sent by the SMU Grad email account on January 27, 2022)
- Faculty and Staff: N-95 masks are being delivered today and early next week to the college, schools and Vice President’s offices. Faculty and staff who need masks should consult their Dean’s Office point person (for Dedman College, this is Associate Dean Tom Carr). (“Weekly Update – January 28, 2022,” sent by Provost Loboa on January 28, 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
Hungry? Let a Robot Help You!
SMU Hospitality Group has partnered with Starship Technologies robots to deliver meals, drinks, and snacks from a range of locations directly to you. They currently deliver from Panera, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Starbucks, Lawyer’s Inn, The Market, Cinco Taco, Sushic, Rollin’ N Bowlin’ Acai Bowls, and Mac’s Place.
These robots provide a safe, fast, affordable (only $1.99 delivery fee) delivery option. They are sanitized before each delivery by Starship staff wearing protective equipment. You can try the service using your mobile device by clicking on www.starship-smu.com or typing “Starship Food Delivery’” into your device’s application store.