Notes for the Sonoma State Meeting

April 4-5, 2003

Link to Meeting Program


On Friday two day-long workshops were held. Dick Cooper of Gettysburg College, PA, presented computer-based astronomy labs. Paul Robinson of San Mateo High School, Dean Baird of Rio Americano High School, Lonnie Grimes of Oakmont High School and Dan Burns of Los Gatos High School gave new teachers teaching tips in electricity and magnetism, and waves.

Following the workshops, the NASA Outreach Group at SSU hosted a Friday evening social, capped by a laser light show by Steve Anderson, lab-tech at SSU.


After a welcome by Saeid Rahimi, Dean of the School of Science and Technology at SSU, the meeting was kicked into high gear on Saturday morning by the ever-popular Show and Tell, which included:

A free book giveaway was featured in the hallway during break from the libraries of Paul Tipler and Paul Hewitt.

Lynn Cominsky of Sonoma State gave a very informative invited talk on the Physics of Nuclear Weapons, available online at After a few basics of fission and fusion, she discussed methods how Uranium is enriched and how fission bombs are used to help create the pressures necessary for fusion bombs. She discussed the so-called clean and neutron bombs, size of bombs, and the nations who have nuclear weapons.

Participants toured the various labs at lunch. Pasco had the usual display engaging and novel lab equipment.

Business Meeting was help after lunch in which a new slate of officers was presented by outgoing president Mike Ugawa. Sheraz Khan of Santa Rosa Junior College was elected secretary.

The Fall, 2003 Meeting is a joint meeting with APS at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Dean Baird of Rio Americano High School, gave a very revealing talk on the status of high school physics standards in the state of California that included content standards, assessment and accountability, and an overview of the content standards for grades 1-8.

The meeting concluded with two sessions of contributed papers:

Session A

"Bernoulli in Principle: Is fluid pressure really lower in moving fluids?" Evan Jones, Sierra College, Emeritus,

A teacher blows between two suspended balloons; they come together. The myth persists that the pressure of a free stream fluid is thereby shown to be lower than the pressure of the surrounding stationary fluid. Using commonly performed experiments and purported "theory", I will show how many assertions about Bernoulli’s principle are not correct. The common misapplication of the Bernoulli principle in free stream cases will be demonstrated.

"Lessons from Chernobyl" Charles Hunt, American River College,

Seventeen years after the world's worst nuclear power plant accident; what actually happened, what were the short and long term effects, and what did the accident teach us about the safety of nuclear power?

"Teacher Research and Cosmic Rays" Andria Erzberger, LBNL,

High school teachers participate in particle physics research at universities and labs through NSF- and DOE-funded QuarkNet. Many of these teachers take high energy physics to their classrooms by using cosmic ray detectors. A portable cosmic ray detector and some experiments will be demonstrated.

"Strategies in Web-Based Homework Assignments" John Walkup, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,

Web-based homework services greatly automate the assigning and grading of homework, reducing academic workload for introductory courses. The homework service provided by the University of Texas ( that is not only easy to use and administrate, but also provides sophisticated feedback to help instructors isolate student difficulties and is free. I will discuss how to harvest the benefits and overcome the shortcomings of online homework services.

"Physics Issues in Homeland Security" Xavier K. Maruyama, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey,

We are bombarded with concerns about Homeland Security. Discussion on airport security, parking perimeters, duct tape, etc. dominate the 10 o'clock news. The average reader gains very little knowledge from either popular press or technical accounts. The gap to be filled by physics instructors is to provide sufficient technical grasp so that basic physics bridges the chasm between the superficial and detail overload. Physics and chemistry issues related to explosive detection, e.g. metal detectors, x-rays, vapor analysis, neutron based techniques, will be presented.

"The Physics of Cell Polarization" David Blackman, UC Berkeley, retired,

Two currents dominate cell polarization. First, the passive current is governed by the Hamiltonian of the partition function. The second, the active transport is governed by the thermodynamics of the sodium pump. The physics of these two systems will be compared. Some very simple assumptions underpin this treatment: passive current is similar to a capacitive discharge; the change in membrane potential is proportional to the signal observed externally.

Session B

"Inter-Nuclear Potential Energy Graphs&endash;Beyond Balancing Reaction Equations and Calculating Mass Defects in Analyzing Fusion, Fission, and Alpha Decay Processes", Patrick M. Len, Cosumnes River College,

Many textbooks provide only a cursory approach to analyzing nuclear processes, primarily based on balancing reaction equations and calculating mass defects. Inter-nuclear potential energy graphs can incorporate these simple fundamental concepts as well as more complex effects to describe fusion, fission, and alpha decay in more detail.

"F = ma and E&M using Python/VPython", Matthew Moelter, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo,

Electric and magnetic fields and their associated phenomena are some of the most challenging concepts in the introductory sequence. We discuss how the Python language and the VPython module combine to make a powerful tool for creating three-dimensional visualizations of fields and phenomena in electromagnetism. Some typical fields and the motion of a charge near a fixed dipole will be presented.

"Springs, Series, and Slinkies" Bryan Cooley, Epistemological Engineering,,

After a brief exploration of tension springs, alone and in series, we will move onto the question of the length of a hanging slinky&endash;a tension spring with non-negligible mass. I will predict and apply mathematical models to fit data taken from a hanging slinky.

"How Big is a Photon", Phil Gash, Cal State, Chico,

While dissertating about light, photons, quanta and energy packets during a lecture, a student asked me just how big are photons ? I didn't know. This simple question stimulated me to re-think the basic properties of photons. Its minimum length depends upon the photon's wavelength and bandwidth. IR, optical, ultraviolet, x-ray and nuclear photons will be discussed.

"NASA GLAST EPO" Lynn Cominsky and Sarah Silva Sonoma State University Education and Public Outreach Group, and

The Education and Public Outreach (EPO) group at Sonoma State University (SSU) will present two separate activities designed to capture the excitement of this mission and use it to engage students in learning math and science: "Far Out Math!" (developed by the TOPS Learning Systems) and "Active Galaxies", a set of activities designed by the SSU EPO group. Both activities are for grades 9-12, and conform to national science and math standards. Participants will receive free NASA materials.

"Space Mysteries: Starmarket" Philip Plait and Tim Graves, Education and Public Outreach Group, SSU, and

"Your web-based investigation, Space Sleuth, will involve interviews with real scientists, real data from various NASA observatories, and will test your abilities to plot and analyze data. Along the way you’ll be doing science by inquiry, build up standards-based knowledge, and even have some fun. Other mysteries await you as well; one involves decoding what might be alien signals arriving from space, and another about helping Ace Reporter Parnell escape disaster on the planet 2-Alpha."


Submitted by Paul Robinson, Section Rep/Program Chair