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Here's How SMU's Physics Department Is Opening Doors into STEM for the Next Generation



Special thanks to Dr. Olness who contributed insight and material for this piece.

When was the last time you saw the laws of science demonstrated and explained to a classroom full of elementary students in a way that was fun and engaging?

In a cultural and economic environment that increasingly rewards the STEM professions, it is more and more important that young kids are inspired to challenge themselves to excel in fields like mathematics, engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science, and medicine.

That’s why the Physics faculty at SMU participates in a number of outreach programs designed to increase interest in science, especially for underrepresented populations.

Keep reading for a in-depth look at some of these outreach programs (and for a very special video of a “Physics Circus,” courtesy of Drs. Fredrick Olness and Randall Scalise of the SMU Physics Department).

Take a Look at the SMU Physics Circus Program

This program, spearheaded by Dr. Olness, is designed to stimulate interest in science, Dr. Olness perform Physics Circus demonstration shows for K-12 students and other community organizations including WISE (Women In Science & Engineering) and the Dallas Concilio of Hispanic Services. 

As you can see from watching Drs. Olness and Scalise at work with the kids, these presentations mix education and entertainment in a combination that piques the students’ curiosity and illustrates how scientific principles underlie even the most “magical” of demonstration experiments. A goal of these programs is to encourage students to attend college and pursue STEM careers, especially for underrepresented populations.

Encouraging STEM Education through the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair

The SMU Physics Faculty have also been long-time supporters of the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, which works to promote STEM in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area. SMU's sponsorship of the Fair recognizes our commitment to STEM education and helps us encourage top students to pursue their dreams of college and graduate school.

This is one of the largest fairs in the country with 1000+ student participants, 400+ judges, 250+ volunteers, and the participation of 50+ organizations and companies including many from the local high-tech sector.

SMU’s Dr. Olness served as Director of the Fair from 2000-2017, and received the Thomas Tunks SMU Distinguished University Citizen Award in part for his leadership of this annual event.

Launching the Physics QuarkNet Program

In 2000, with funding and support from the Department of Education and National Science Foundation, Drs. Ryszard Stroynowski and Olness launched a program to help improve STEM education at the K-12 level by empowering high school teachers.

The SMU Physics QuarkNet program brings about 20 high science teachers to SMU each summer to update them on the latest developments in science and to let them participate in lectures, labs, and workshops that enhance their knowledge and their course materials.

In recent years, this program has expanded to include SMU undergraduate students and local high school students. Because of the success of the QuarkNet program, another Physics faculty member, Dr. Simon Dalley, developed the Master Physics Teacher certification program now offered at SMU in conjunction with the Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

Want to Learn More About the Community and Opportunities at SMU?

We are a research focused institution with incredible resources and faculty. We also are a place that values knowledge for the sake of the community and the world. It is so important to use your advanced degree to serve and to offer opportunity to others.

At SMU, we are looking for graduate students who are eager to research, teach, and get excited about science.

What sets us apart from other physics Ph.D. programs is that we are led by inspired, dedicated scholars who produce world-class research at facilities like the CERN in Switzerland, but still make time for some science fun with the communities that matter back home in the Dallas area.

If you’re passionate about physics and want to learn more about the opportunities and community available in SMU’S Physics Ph.D. program, check out our complete guide to studying physics at SMU!

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