The Society of Physics Students at Missouri Southern State University has been recognized with a 2018-19 Outstanding Chapter Award, marking the second time in two years the chapter has received national recognition.

The Outstanding Chapter Award is the highest level of distinction given by the national SPS organization, with fewer than 15 percent of college and university chapters receiving the award annually. Just 103 of 829 chapters were honored this year.

“We submit an annual report (to the national office) and they evaluate us on the basis of five different categories, such as interactions with SPS national programs, the professional physics community, community on-campus, the public and off-campus community,” says Dr. Jency Sundararajan, associate professor of physics and advisor for Missouri Southern’s SPS chapter.

The Outstanding Chapter Award recognizes high levels of outreach as well as unique approaches to fulfilling the mission of SPS to “help students transform themselves into contributing members of the professional community.” Last year, the MSSU chapter received the Distinguished Chapter Award, which is the second-highest recognition.

The Society of Physics Students is a professional association designed for students and membership is open to anyone interested in physics and related fields. SPS operates within the American Institute of Physics, an umbrella organization for professional physical science societies.


“The mission is to foster an interest in physics,” says Cade Hensley, a junior from Joplin who serves as president of the MSSU chapter. “It’s one of the sciences that people can be scared of. We want to expose them early on to make sure they know it’s not scary – there is physics in everything around us. It’s all about describing why something acts the way it does.”

Along with Hensley, current SPS officers are: Gabe Wooden – vice president, junior, Joplin; Joshua Numata – treasurer, senior, Carl Junction; and Ashley Bluemel – secretary, senior, Sandy, Utah.

Chapter activities have included demonstrations at Joplin’s downtown Third Thursday event, campus events such as the Regional Science Fair and Sophomore Day, as well as presentations to students at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, Spring Grove Primary Center, Columbia Elementary and elementary students in Carl Junction. In February, they’ll interact with some of the youngest members of the Lion family during a presentation at the Lion Cub Academy. In March, they’ll be joined by peers from other schools when Missouri Southern hosts the SPS Zone 12 meeting, which covers Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

While the national Society of Physics Students was founded in 1968, Missouri Southern’s chapter is relatively new.

Dr. Daniel Marsh, professor of physics, was the founding advisor for the MSSU club, which was formed in 2015. Sundararajan has served as the advisor since the fall of 2016.

“The national organization is very supportive of students in terms of providing financial assistance to attend conferences, conduct research and outreach activities,” says Sundararajan. “This year, we received at least $1,900.”

“We applied for every award we could think of,” says Hensley. “We filmed a video promotion and the team that got the most likes on Instagram received $600. We won that.

“Our chapter also received a $600 Chapter Reporter Award to attend PhysCon (the 2019 Physics Congress held in November in Providence, R.I.). Four of us attended the conference, took pictures, participated in select workshops and wrote a report based on our experiences.”

This year, the chapter also won the SPS travel award of $200, and the Sigma Pi Sigma Chapter Project Award to support an alumni gathering and induct six members into the national physics honor society.

On campus, the chapter has collaborated with Missouri Southern’s Chemistry and Women in Science clubs.

“You don’t have to be a physics major to participate,” says Hensley. “It’s open to all majors. Most of our events are for elementary, middle and high-school students, explaining concepts to them in a fun, interactive way. Physics is not just white boards and equations.”