Society of Physics Students Awarded Blake Lilly Prize

SJU’s chapter wins award for outreach, dedication to diversity



A student works on a project during a recent workshop.

Ariana Ortiz, Co-News Editor

The Society of Physics Students, a national association for students interested in physics, recently awarded its 2016-17 Blake Lilly Prize to St. John’s own chapter.

According to the society’s official website, the prize “recognizes SPS chapters and individuals who make a genuine effort to positively influence the attitudes of school children and the general public about physics,” and was specifically awarded to St. John’s chapter “for exceptional efforts in engaging the campus community through physics outreach and collaborative events, and dedication to diversity in STEM through the Ray Lab Tracing Experiment.”

Rachel Tyo, a senior and president of SPS at St. John’s, says that the ray lab tracing experiment—which SPS hosted last spring—came to be through a partnership with Women in Science, which encourages women to pursue careers in STEM fields.

The experiment consisted of measuring the focal point of lenses and light by using a ray tracing apparatus.

Society of Physics Students President, Rachel Tyo, heads the chapter’s outreach efforts.

“It was really great; we had our moderator Dr. Fortmann, he hosted the experiment, and on the side we had our members as volunteers and they kind of worked alongside the girls.” Tyo said, adding that Charles Fortmann, an associate physics professor at the University, is the faculty adviser for SPS.

“The girls did their own measurements, they got to play with the apparatus, and we just kind of were by their side guiding them. Really, they did all their work.”

“The experiment was fun and simple, but it is one that’s at the foundation for certain topics in physics,” SPS Secretary Seychelle Khan said.

“We wanted to encourage more girls to follow carrer paths in physics—or at least develop an interest in physics.”

According to Tyo, the group of about 29 girls who participated in the experiment were from nearby schools including: St. Nicholas of Tolentine Catholic Academy; Incarnation Catholic Academy; Bell Academy and PS/IS 499 school.

Tyo says that she initiated the Women in Science collaboration because she saw that the majority of the society’s other members are biology, chemistry and toxicology majors; she wanted to introduce a program introducing young girls to physics, which she says women are especially underrepresented in.

“There’s a really low number of female physicists and engineers, so I really thought I want to introduce them to this, maybe we can influence some of them,” Tyo said. “All it took for me was one little experience and I was in love with physics, so I was thinking maybe we give that opportunity to some other girls.”

According to Tyo, SPS chapters are required to submit their annual chapter report, which includes an optional application for the Blake Lilly Prize.

“I wrote about how we did that outreach, and we ended up getting the prize for it when we submitted our report,” Tyo said.

Tyo says that her main goal in heading SPS and organizing its outreach efforts is to give everyone the opportunity to know and love physics.

SPS holds Arduino sessions every Monday, where students can become familiar with electronics, basic circuitry and computer programming.

“I want to spread physics to everyone, including those who are already in physics to appreciate it more,” Tyo said. “I want to show people who think they hate it that it’s fun, and to kids who don’t know anything about it.”