Discovering the Magic of Physics
by Georgia Paraskaki
Can you make an invisible cloak? Can you name a star? Is the sun really yellow or green? What does it actually mean that “time is relevant”?
Young minds of Athens Physics Department discuss these topics among many more and are planning to stick around and make us love Physics even more! Their group was launched in 2021 as part of the European Physics Society (EPS) and the Young Minds program and their effort aims not only to communicate science to the general public but also to establish a network of physics students in Europe and neighboring countries to promote the professional development of members and make Physics Science accessible to all.
We asked Zoe Filiou (General Secretary), Anna Christoforidou (Vice President), and Chrysa Avgerinou (PR Manager), the female representatives of the presidency of the Young Minds group of the Physics Department of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA), to give an insight into the activities of Young Minds NKUA and a short teaser of what’s going on there. Let’s go find out!
How was the idea of Young Minds at the Physics Department of NKUA born? What are your goals and through which axes are you trying to achieve them?
The group started in the summer of 2021 as a proposal of the then-head of the Young Minds program of EPS (Petra Rudolf) to our current responsible professor, Dr Tsakmakidis, to create the first Young Minds section in Greece. He, in turn, with an open call united all interested students, who became the founding members of the group that created the first statutes. Since then, the main objectives of the Young Minds are: enabling networking between the students, developing their professional skills and promoting the science of Physics. A key activity is to organize events that target either physics students or the general public. Each event is organized by a different committee so that everyone gets a taste of the organization and management required. Such events can include talks or even interactive activities with the attendees. In addition, there are sub-groups involved in writing articles, creating podcasts and managing our personal website and social media. This is how we try to make physics accessible to everyone while creating a positive atmosphere among students who share a common passion.
What are the benefits of a European framework in such an effort? How does your group relate to counterparts in other European countries or even Greece?
At the moment, on a national level, there are a total of five teams that are part of the EPS Young Minds program, one in each of the following Greek universities: NKUA, National Technical University of Athens, University of Patras, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and University of Thessaly. On a European level, only one such team can be established per University and all of them are linked together having the same principles of organization and funding for the realization of the events. Once a year, representatives from each European group meet and take stock of what they have done in the last year, exchanging views and ideas. In addition, due to EPS’s cooperation with IAPS (International Association of Physics Students) all members/sections have the right to run competitions that were first introduced under the auspices of IAPS, such as the Plancks physics competition. In general, the atmosphere between the groups is friendly and promotes cooperation and communication between people with different cultures, which is always constructive and broadens the horizons of the students.
How many are the members of the Young Minds NKUA at the moment and how can someone connect with you either through your Physics department or from other Universities in Greece?
At the moment, the group has about 60 members, all students from the Physics Department of NKUA, mainly at the undergraduate level, and is organized by a steering committee that is voted by the members every year. The group accepts new members exclusively from the physics department of the NKUA, so if someone is interested in helping this cause but is studying at another university it would be a good idea to check if there is a similar group at their university. New members express their interest by sending an email to the group and from there our HR manager takes over to guide the interested person to choose their area of interest.
Science communication plays an important role at all ages and career stages. How can school students benefit from knowing better the, in some cases, “misunderstood” and “difficult” science of physics, which in the eyes of many in Greece leads exclusively to a career as a teacher?
Physics in schools is often presented as just another maths lesson and loses its true nature, which is that of experimental science. For many of us, the magic lies in how you can draw conclusions by simply observing the progression of a phenomenon and understanding what is happening around you. This, where formal education can fall short, is often made up for by communicating science through experiments, or by presenting the latest results of science in simple terms to an audience that does not necessarily have a background in physics. It is very important for students to realize that science is not for the few and that those who choose the field are not necessarily overly intelligent.
Moreover, making known the career path of a person who may have started their career studying physics can sometimes be surprising. The analytical thinking and problem-solving skills we develop during our studies have applications in too many fields, especially now that data analysis has become very popular. One can decide to pursue a master’s degree in medical physics and work as a radiation physicist or continue their studies at the doctoral level and become a researcher. The options are too many but unfortunately they are usually unknown.
And what is the role of science communication to undergraduate students or even at later career stages?
For students the role of science communication is twofold. When students try to explain to the public the science they are studying, they gain public speaking skills, something many people fear, while they understand the essence of their science better themselves. It’s like a crash course in teaching. Physics is a large umbrella of things and, usually, most people are involved in a small branch of it. But for one to find their passion requires stimuli which can be provided through science communication.
In Universities there is inevitably a distance between students and professors. Can an effort like yours bridge the communication gap between them?
Personally, during the first years of attending the school, I had my professors raised on a heavenly pedestal. Choosing a specialization, where things are more close and intimate, I came to the realization that professors are perfectly normal people, leading a daily life just like everyone else. I had to reach the fourth year to realize this, but now there is something that can speed up that process. Interviews of our podcasts with our professors, where we talk about life in general in addition to their careers or the conference we organized on women in science, where we our female professors talked about their experiences in the workplace. All these can help in changing the dynamics of the professor-student relationship.
Throughout the studies, it is crucial to network with students from different career stages and to exchange information and advice. How do your activities help this networking?
Over the last few months, we have had several new additions of first-year students to our team, who we have got to know in an interesting way. We had noticed that in recent years there had never been a freshers welcome and we still remember the anxiety we had ourselves in the early days about getting to the right lab or finding the University canteen. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to give a tour and answer as many questions as we could. It turned out that this simple gesture was appreciated by the students who participated. They asked us about internships, research projects and even Erasmus program and we were delighted to be able to help and transfer our first-hand experience to them. This creates a sense of security because you know there is someone who can advise you or who has experienced what you are experiencing. In the long term, such contacts can even have an impact on job hunting.
Finally, how do you envision your team evolving over time?
Anna: One of my personal ambitions for the future of the group is to create a nationwide (and pan-European) network through which students can organize and participate in science communication activities to the public. Then, I envision all members of the Young Minds NKUA program, through the aforementioned network, making contacts and using them for their careers.
Zoi: On a more romantic note, I would personally like the group to give others what it gave to me. Being involved in what you study as an apprentice sometimes gives you the courage and faith that you know what you are doing. It is no secret that students suffer from imposter syndrome. I have seen students who work hard in and out of school but still feel inferior or unworthy. So, I would like our group to make as many students as possible feel they are exactly where they belong.
Chrysa: My vision for this group is to unite students from many parts of the world and help them chart their own courses. We all need a mentor in our lives to help us achieve our goals. In addition, I would like to help connect more people to physics regardless of age and career so that we can build an informed and thoughtful world.
We, in turn, hope that their vision will be realized and they will continue to show us the beauty of the science of physics by providing a safe environment for all students!
If you too want to know what’s going on at NKUA’s Physics department first-hand, you can follow Young Minds NKUA, listen to their delightful podcasts, read their articles and get in touch with them to get to know them and connect with them.
Find all our past articles chronologically organized in our archive.
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