Physics & Astronomy, School of Science

The lessening of the pandemic’s impact continues to open up opportunities for Siena students and faculty to get back to in-person conference travel. 

Eight Siena students attended the April meeting of the American Physical Society (APS), held April 9 – 12 in New York. The meeting’s theme, “Quarks to Cosmos,” encompassed a broad range of research areas in physics: astrophysics, particle physics, nuclear physics, and gravitation, as well as topics on education, and issues of diversity and equity in the field. More than 1,500 attendees took part.

Matt Bellis, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, and John Moustakas, Ph.D., associate professor of physics and department chair, accompanied the students, who got to hear talks by and interact with scientific leaders in the field, including Moustakas, who presented his work on dark energy.

“Siena is one of 69 world leaders in studying dark energy, the mysterious cosmic force causing the universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate,” he said. “It was great being able to give an in-person update on this exciting project.” 

“It really was an inspirational meeting,” said Bellis. “Nobel-prize winners came to the poster presentations, plenary talks were held about the situation in Ukraine, and there were whole sessions about the latest hints and tensions in the Standard Models of both cosmology and particle physics.”

The Siena students presented their work at the poster sessions or were able to discuss their current research with other attendees.

“The meeting was a great opportunity for me, and I got to go to a lot of interesting talks and speak to some really cool people,” said Josie Swann ’25. “I encourage other undergraduates to try to attend meetings like these; they really are great ways to hear more about your field or even to just meet with others with common interests. A lot of the material went over my head, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was given the opportunity to learn so much at such an important meeting.” 

Swann has been conducting research with Bellis this semester to study a potential background to dark matter. 

Alexa Robbins ’23 and Daryl Williams ’23 presented the engineering project they conducted this year: building a tabletop cloud chamber to detect high-energy particles. 

“The APS meeting was great,” said Robbins. “It was so cool meeting physicists who were interested in our research when they stopped by our poster. This meeting is an amazing opportunity for undergrad students to meet physicists and learn about their research."

Alexis Leuci ’22 plans on becoming a high school teacher and was able to conduct some helpful networking, while Abigail Huffman ‘22, the only non-physics major in the Siena group, used her creative arts chops to present the Quantum Party! board game she helped design. 

“I attended several talks about climate change in addition to presenting on the physics board game,” she said. “I was able to teach people how to play the game and made some cool connections over it. It was a really fun and beneficial experience, and I hope other Siena students are able to attend more conferences like this!”

“Her presenting of the game at the poster session was a huge hit, and she played it with many attendees,” said Bellis. “Abby is a great example of what a non-STEM, non-business major can do with a Siena liberal arts/creative arts degree.” 

Sarah Markham ‘24, said it’s important for undergrads to go to conferences like this “for the connections.” 

“It’s an amazing way to meet and hear from people in the field, and it allows you to make connections with people and organizations that could be beneficial to you in the future,” she said. “It also serves as a way for you to present to others work that you’ve been doing, which can open the way to even more opportunities.”

Also attending the APS meeting were Michael DeLouker ‘23 and Chanuntorn Pumpo ‘22. 

The Siena squad also had the opportunity during their down time to explore New York: visiting the Lego store in Rockefeller Center, seeing the musical Beetlejuice, and catching a Yankees game. 

Bellis and Moustakas both emphasized the significant support for the trip from the School of Science and the College’s academic departments, as well as the CURCA Summer Scholars program and their own research grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This level of support doesn't happen at many other schools,” said Bellis. “Our undergrads are very fortunate to have these opportunities.”