Physics Club Activities

Summer Research 2016

Summer Researchers 2016

The Coe College Chapter of the National Society of Physics Students (SPS) is consistently ranked as an Outstanding Chapter, an award reserved for only the top 10 percent of SPS chapters nationally. Those chapters that are honored excel in physics areas such as research, public science outreach, tutoring programs, representation at physics meetings, and social interaction of chapter members.

The Coe Physics Department is known worldwide for its accomplishments in glass research and resulting discoveries. In the last decade, the department has received more than $2.1 million in external grant funding for equipment and programs. During that time, more than 80 articles have been published by Coe physics faculty and students in peer-reviewed publications, with over 250 student and faculty presentations at more than 70 scholarly conferences.

More than 20 Coe physics students participate in summer research each year, working on projects normally reserved for graduate students. Coe physics students have the opportunity to travel around the world for research and conferences. Recent destinations have included China, Japan, England, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, France, Italy, Canada, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida, Illinois and Maryland.

Coe physics graduates are sought-after candidates at graduate schools and in industry. The commitment of professors coupled with funding for equipment and research helps Coe physics students advance to highly regarded graduate programs and professional positions. About 80 percent of the graduates from the program have moved on to quality graduate schools in physics, materials science, an allied science or mathematics.

Social and Scientific Events

  • Orientation party - group photo

    2016 Orientation Party at Prof. Mario Affatigato's house.

    We host a weekly ice cream social on Fridays, open to all campus. In addition, a recent article related to physics, often taken from Physics Today, is presented during the minute of science
  • The Physics Club holds yearly winter and spring parties at the department faculty's homes. Jim Cottingham hosts the winter party, Ugur Akgun hosts the spring party, Steve Feller holds a dinner for all graduating physics majors, and SPS orientation barbeques are held at Professor Mario Affatigato's house for new and rejoining members.
  • The physics club sponsors the annual Faculty Impersonation Contest, where students are free to impersonate any faculty member (without fear of repercussions). Last year, more than 50 students and faculty attended. Refreshments, as well as prizes for the most impressive impersonations, are provided.
  • We organize and participate in a number of social activities for summer researchers in the physics department, including: Professor Steve Feller's annual trip to the Field of Dreams, weekly movie weries, a spaghetti dinner at professor Mario Affatigato's house, and a steak dinner generously provided by the president of Coe College. Additionally, a number of guest speakers present talks on various topics of interest during our weekly Wednesday lunches, to which more than 80 students, faculty, and members of the public commonly attend. Speakers and topics from 2015 included:
    • Prof. S. Feller, “The curious case of Camp Hay, Australia in World War II”
    • Prof. Jim Cottingham, “Acoustics of Musical Instruments”
    • Prof. Benji Tallman, “Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback“
    • Prof. Ugur Akgun, “Turkey May Term 2015”
    • Prof. David Lo, “Gamification in the Classroom”
    • Prof. Maria Dean, “Making Candy: The Sweet Side of Chemistry”
    • Prof. Jane Nesmith, “Dancing in Two Hemispheres: the story of Edna Dieman and Julia Bennett, founders of the Dieman-Bennett Dance Studio”
  • Professor Ugur Akgun hosts a science talk series throughout the year from local academics, spanning a wide variety of scientific disciplines. Talks that will be given this Spring include: 
    • "Optimization algorithms in signal processing (Compressed Sensing and Super-resolution)" Michael Cho, Electrical Engineering, University of Iowa.
    • "Radiochemistry: Energy, Medicine, Environment." Eric Eitrheim, Chemistry Department, University of Iowa.
    • "How Cells Respond to Mechanical Forces" Jennifer Bays, Biochemistry Department, University of Iowa.
    • "How to Kill a Biofilm: A Chemical Engineer's Prospective" Joel Coffel, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, University of Iowa.
    • "Medical Physics as a Career" Dongxu Wang, Radiation and Oncology Department, University of Iowa.
  • Dr. Robert Brown gives a talk at the 35th annual Physics Club Banquet.
    Dr. Robert Brown gives a talk at the 35th annual Physics Club Banquet.
    Every spring, we hold the annual Physics Club Banquet at a local restaurant to recognize our current executive officers, elect officers for the following year, honor graduating students, and induct juniors into the physics honor society, Sigma Pi Sigma. A keynote speaker is also invited to give a talk related to physics. The 2016 banquet was held at the Ox Yoke Inn at the Amana Colonies. Dr. Robert Brown, the chief executive officer of the American Institute of Physics, gave a talk titled "From fundamental physics to high impact applications - and some lessons learned." The guest speakers from the latest banquets were: 
    • 2011: Prof. Tom Rossing, University of Northern Illinois, Physics Department
    • 2012: Prof. Adrian Elcock, University of Iowa, Biochemistry Department
    • 2013: Prof. John Salzer, Indiana University, Department of Astronomy
    • 2014: Prof. Sharon Stevenson, Gettysburg College, Physics Department
    • 2015: Dr. Philip "Bo" Hammer, Vice President of the American Institute of Physics
    • 2016: Dr. Robert Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Physics
  • The physics and math departments hold a yearly poker tournament.
  • In collaboration with the chemistry and biology clubs, we hold an annual science trivia contest for students and faculty to test their general science knowledge.


  • Demonstration at Prairie Hill Elementary School
    Demonstration at Prairie Hill Elementary School
    The physics department maintains an active presence in the local community, hoping to excite the next generation of physicists. The faculty often gives talks at nearby elementary and senior high schools. Recent examples include
    • Ugur Akgun's talks at Mason City High, Elkader High, and Kennedy High School
    • Steve Feller's talks with the Zach Johnson Foundation kids, and a talk for Prairie High School ninth graders on projectile motion
    • Mario's talks with students at the Science Olympiads, and judging at a local science fair last spring
  • Every year, the physics department proudly participates in the Playground of Science: an event where interactive demonstrations and experiments are hosted by the science departments at Coe in order to teach students about the natural world. Exciting experiments include levitation, trebuchet pumpkin launching, strong magnets, making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, pouring molten glass, and more. There are also door prizes. Students of all ages from the community and their families are encouraged to attend.
  • A demonstration at the annual Playground of Science, 2015
    A demonstration at the annual Playground of Science, 2015
    We also participate organization of the Science Olympiads and Physics Competition. Since 2011, we have hosted a regional physics competition that includes high schools in the Grant Wood AEA. The winners go to a state Physics Competition.
  • Our department has a tradition of inviting students from Muscatine Elementary School to visit every year.
  • We also host an annual Nanophysics workshop for high school students interested in exciting new areas of physics that are being explored at Coe. Every summer around 20 students participate in these hands-on workshops on Glass Levitation, Electron Scanning Microscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, Atomic Force Microscopy, and Computational Biophysics.
  • We participate in the Iowa Glass Conference every year, and host it generally every other year. During the summer of 2013, we hosted the conference with more than 40 participants from Iowa State University, Creighton University, Simpson College, and Coe College.

Alumni Interaction

  • Attendees of the Physics Reunion, Summer 2013
    Attendees of the Physics Reunion, Summer 2013
    Every five years, Coe College holds a physics alumni reunion, where graduates spend a weekend reminiscing about their experiences in the physics department and give talks on what they have accomplished since graduation. This is also a great opportunity for current students to network with experts in industry and research. The most recent physics reunion occurred in 2013, and a few alumni talks were given by:
    • Sandep Giri '04 from Google
    • TJ Kiczenski '99 from Corning
    • Nathan Nelson '98 from Tesla Motors
    • DaNel Hogan '99, Einstein Fellow at DOE
    • John Salzer '80 Chair Department of Astronomy at Indiana University
    • Richard Williams '97 from Los Alamos National Lab
  • The physics department is also fortunate to have connections with alumni who have gone on to work at companies such as Rockwell Collins and Corning, who have provided students with scholarships and multiple internship opportunities every summer.
  • Karim Budhwani, who currently researches improving drug delivery techniques when treating cardiovascular disease and different caners, visited Coe this April.

Society of Physics Students

    Coe students ith Jocelyn Bell Burnell at the 2016 Quadrennial Physics Congress.
    Coe students ith Jocelyn Bell Burnell at the 2016 Quadrennial Physics Congress.
  • More than 15 consecutive years as a National Outstanding Chapter which is awarded to the top 10 percent of SPS chapters.
  • More than 70 students and graduates from the physics department have been inducted into the physics honor society Sigma Pi Sigma for their contributions, with around five new members a year. Some of the most recent additions were Brittney Hauke '17, Isabella Sorenson '17, Andrew Kohler '17, Arron Potter '17 and Christopher Ertl '17.
  • Steve Feller (co-chair) and Brittney Hauke '17 served on the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress.
  • Lisa McDonald '17 is the Zone 11 Associate Zone Councilor.
  • Brittney Hauke '17, Lisa McDonald '17 and Steve Feller attended the national council meeting held in September 2015 in College Park, MD.
  • About 35 Coe students attended the Quadrennial Physics Congress in 2016 in San Francisco and several presented posters.
  • The 2017 Zone 11 Meeting was held at Coe College, about 60-70 people attended several events including:
    • Tour of Rockwell Collins
    • Talk by Mario Affatigato, Coe College Professor: Pseudoscience and Coe College
    • Student poster session
    • Talk by Brad Conrad, Executive Director of SPS and ΣΠΣ
    • Awarding of honorary ΣΠΣ memberships to Coe professors Ugur Akgun and Firdevs Duru by Coe ΣΠΣ President Chris Ertl '17
    • Talk by Don Gurnett, University of Iowa professor: his work on the Voyager missions, and how he correctly estimated the location of the heliopause, i.e., the boundary that separates Earth's solar system from interstellar space
    • Talk by Jim Gates, University of Maryland professor: Super-symmetrical particles and string theory

Scientific Meetings

  • Ugur Akgun and one of his researchers, Justin Jagodinsky '15, attended the Frontiers on Membrane Protein Structure and Function conference at UAB.
  • We went to the Sigma Pi Sigma Congress which 27 students, and one alum, as well as Barb and Steve Feller attended. We gave several poster presentations including ones by SPS Members Evan Troendle '14, Nathan Barnes '14, Dat Vu '15, Kyle Hershey '13, Colton Cruse '13, and Chloe Drapes '14 (November 2012). We heard from such speakers as Jocelyn Bell-Burnell (the discoverer of neutron stars), John Mather (Nobel Laureate and Director of James Webb telescope), David Saltzberg (UCLA, and scientific advisor to the Big Bang Theory TV show), Dan Green (Fermilab, Director of USCMS Project, helped the discovery of Higgs Boson), and John Grunsfeld (Scientific Director of NASA and repair astronaut to the Hubble Space Telescope), and Freeman Dyson (Physicist extraordinaire).
  • Alison Whale '14, Chloe Drapes '14 Sydney Keizer '14 and Nichole Johnson '15 attended the 6th Annual Midwest Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics held at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana (January, 2013)
  • Jason Wang '13 and Bingchen Yu '14 attended the MS @T Conference held in Pittsburgh (October 2012)
  • Chloe Drapes '14, Evan Troendle '14, Adam VanGrootest '16, Steve Feller, and Mario Affatigato gave presentations at the Iowa Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting. This was held at Simpson College in Indianola, IA (April 2013)
  • Steve Feller and Evan Troendle '14 gave a presentation at the McElroy Foundation Symposium held at Wartburg College. The meeting was held in Waverly, IA (April 2013)
  • During the reconstruction of Peterson Hall, various SPS members had research positions with our collaborators in engineering and physics during the summer of 2012. Adam Zahn '14 and Ethan Lawrence '14 went to the University of Manitoba in Canada; Alison Whale '14, Jason Maldonis '13, Daken Starkenburg '14, Jason Wang '13, and Chloe Drapes '14 went to Corning, Inc.; Tim Ahline '13 and Kris Hopkins '13 went to the University of Toronto in Italy; and Matt Kielty '14 went to Iowa State University.