For three decades, Utah State University’s Physics Day at Lagoon has been a welcome harbinger of spring and a rite of passage for thousands of Intermountain teens. At best estimate, more than 150,000 aspiring scientists and engineers from middle and high schools in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona have participated in the yearly day of gut-churning fun at the Davis County amusement park since the event’s 1990 inception.
All of those thrills and chills came to a screeching halt in May 2020, of course, as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed. The 2021 gathering was cancelled for the same reason. But event organizers are excited to announce 2022’s event is go-for-launch.
“I think everyone is ready to get back to some in-person activities, and USU Physics Day at Lagoon is a great way to start,” says USU Physics professor J.R. Dennison, a founder and longtime coordinator of the event. “This will be our 31st Physics Day and we can’t wait to welcome our participants.”
Dennison says pre-registration numbers — already topping 11,000 students and teachers — are very encouraging.
“We’re running 30 to 40 percent higher in sign-ups than any previous years at this point in advance of the event,” he says.
USU student Zachary Zito, who is majoring in physics and philosophy, is among volunteers planning to help out with the day’s activities, including STEM exhibits, contests and demonstrations. As a senior at Magna, Utah’s Cyprus High School, Zito attended USU Physics Day in 2019, placing third in the day’s Physics Bowl competition with his classmates.
“I hadn’t really considered Utah State as a college destination, but participating in Physics Bowl and learning more about the kind of physics I could study at USU sparked my interest,” says Zito, who was awarded a USU Presidential Scholarship.
“I didn’t know much about either of these programs, but they’ve opened up great opportunities for me,” he says. “The cool thing about Honors is you’re in classes with fellow students who are really engaged in learning and your faculty mentors are focused on helping you develop.”
Two of those mentors, Physics professor Charles Torre and Philosophy postdoctoral fellow Brittany Gentry, are helping Zito with an interdisciplinary research project. Zito recently submitted a successful proposal exploring the concept of time — an idea that confounds and intrigues both physicists and philosophers — and was named a 2022 Peak Summer Research Fellow.
Not every Physics Day participant becomes a physics major, but the daylong gathering demonstrates the fun of science, along with practical applications, Dennison says.
“What better laboratory to entice young people than an amusement park?” he says.
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