Utah State University Physics Day at Lagoon organizers had high hopes for a return this week to an in-person gathering of the long-running STEM outreach gathering, but pandemic conditions determined otherwise.
“While the future looks bright and the COVID-19 situation continues to improve, the size of this event has necessitated that we hold off one more year,” wrote event organizer J.R. Dennison, in a recent letter to high school and middle school science teachers throughout the Intermountain West.
Dennison, professor in USU’s Department of Physics, was swift to reassure teachers the popular gathering, which marks its 32nd year this month, will continue with virtual activities for 2021 and optimistic plans for a return to an in-person gathering in May 2022.
The 2019 event attracted some 10,000 high school and middle school students from throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and beyond for a day of amusement park physics, STEM exhibits and scholarship competitions at the Farmington, Utah entertainment destination. At best estimate, more than 150,000 aspiring scientists have participated in the yearly day of gut-churning science fun at Davis County’s über-playground since the program’s 1990 inception. The event receives coordination support from Idaho National Laboratory, along with funding support from a host of public and private sponsors.
In addition to an innovative day of science learning outside the classroom, the annual event provides USU students, including future science teachers, with a valuable STEM-teaching learning experience.
“While we can’t meet in person this year, we’re developing virtual curricula to enable students and teachers to enjoy our well-loved activities, such as an alternate egg drop and accelerometer contests, online,” say Dennison, who was among founders of the event, one of the world’s largest and most-longstanding amusement park physics gatherings.
Dennison says, in recent years, he’s begun meeting the children of students, who participated in earlier Physics Day gatherings.
“It’s very rewarding, year after year, to see young people getting excited about science,” he says. “We’re committed to offering the best experience possible and making the best of a challenging situation. The silver lining? By developing virtual activities, we can reach more young scientists and engineers than ever.”