American Physical Society Goes Tropical

On January 18, UH Mānoa hosts the first Far West Section of the American Physical Society in Hawaiʻi

Staff Writer Clara Scheidle
Photo Courtesy of the American Physical Society

APS Physics logo “It’s a great opportunity for the physics community.” - Hope Ishii

Disclaimer: attendance and travel fees for the writer were paid for by APS

The American Physical Society Far West Section conference begins with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Physicists of different backgrounds chat around two fold up tables laden with mini muffins and coffee. University of Hawaiʻi students- both from Mānoa and Hilo- mingle and talk about the research they had done the previous summer. It’s a day of science, learning, and most importantly, making connections.

“It’s a great opportunity for the physics community to learn from one another,” says Hope Ishii, member of the organizing committee for this event and Associate Researcher at UH Mānoa.

That is the beauty of this conference: the fact that it was impossible to talk about the physics research without dipping into other disciplines. The presentation on the Kilauea eruption is peppered with tourism statistics, the one on plasma physics and fusion points out that historical context was needed to fully understand the research.

The diversity in each physicist’s occupation and profession further enhances this point. There are several different applications to physics- teaching it, of course, but there are also companies in which physics is a vital component, whether it be software development or the general skill of problem solving. As Ishii puts it, “everything is related to physics.” Getting physicists of different disciplines together is APS’s way of “connecting components.”

There’s further importance in why this meeting was held in Hawaiʻi in the first place. While Hawaiʻi has always been a part of the Far West Section along with California and Nevada, Hawaiʻi hadn’t hosted a meeting until this conference in early 2019. Many of the attendees are wearing Aloha shirts, and one presenter even gave his talk wearing slippers. Stereotypes aside, however, the meeting includes Oli heahea, a Hawaiian chant of welcome, performed by a UH Mānoa student who had written and composed the mele himself. Having this meeting in Hawaiʻi exposes the physicists to new culture they can learn from and be apart of, while also allowing them to check out all the science research going on in the islands.

Ishii says that the goal of this conference is to better connect the APS Far West Section to Hawaiʻi and spread the word in the hopes of having a bigger meeting in the fall or the coming year. On the future of APS and the Far West Section, Ishii says “it’s important that there are students attending.” Indeed, there are students of high school age all the way to graduate students in attendance, some to give poster presentations on their research and others for the sake of learning. From UH Hilo, five physics and astronomy students were selected to present their research. Today, they can learn and enjoy different ways that physics is used in research as well as everyday life.

“Physics really applies to a lot of different fields,” Ishii states. She also says that it can be inspiring for students to come to these meetings and see the many ways their knowledge can be applied.

The conference covers topics that range from the Kilauea eruption, to discovering neutrinos in Antarctica, to how STEM is taught around the globe. The research done includes everything from the very small, like nanophysics, to the very large, like volcanos. All in all, it is truly a day of education and connection.