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USM Physics Students Chosen as Student Ambassadors for Prestigious International Conference

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 09:04am | By: David Tisdale

Two University of Southern Mississippi (USM) physics students – Swapnil Bhatta and Sophia Turner - were among only eight selected nationwide as student ambassadors to attend the American Physical Society (APS) international leadership conference in Washington, D.C. Jan. 28 – Feb. 1. 

The APS mission includes advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics through its research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. It represents more than 55,000 members around the world, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry. The APS conference included educational programming, an international leadership forum along with other leadership events, interaction with members of the U.S. Congress, and a medal and prize ceremony recognizing leaders and outstanding contributions in the field of physics.

"I’m very proud of both Swapnil and Sophia for earning this prestigious appointment,” said Dr. Jeremy Scott, assistant teaching professor of physics in the USM School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. “The American Physical Society is the largest and most influential organization in the discipline of physics."

*Bhatta is a senior from Nepal and a double-major in physics and mathematics. He is a student in USM’s prestigious Honors College. He is his second year as a student ambassador for APS, and said the leadership meeting was a great opportunity to interact with leading experts in the field of physics, both academically and in science policy.

“The discussions and presentations ranged from new research to current policies that are impacting the science,” he said. “Participating in these helped me become more informed about the issues facing the physics community.

“The event also proved to be a great opportunity for networking, as it included members of APS, ranging from Nobel Laureates to presidents of foreign physical societies.”

Bhatta is president of USM's Society of Physics Students chapter. His involvement with the organization earned him a leadership scholarship in 2019. He is also a recipient of the William F. St. Clair Scholarship in Physics as well as the Wright W. and Annie Rea Cross Mathematics Undergraduate Research Scholarship. He plans to pursue graduate studies following completion of his degree at USM.

I have loved my time at USM, the cultural diversity on campus is amazing,” Bhatta said. “Im also grateful for the support I’ve received from the faculty and staff of the School of Mathematics and Natural Science, including from Dr. Michael Vera, and Dr. (Jeremy) Scott for the opportunity to be involved with APS.

*Turner, a junior from Pascagoula, Mississippi, graduate from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCC) before transferring to USM to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physics and minor in biology. During the conference, Turner attended research presentations and meetings about APS resources for students, and gained inspiration to pursue her own initiatives that include starting a summer camp hosted by various STEM organizations on campus. She also learned about a program called StepUp at the conference which provides materials to help with outreach in a variety of stem fields and with teaching opportunities.

“It’s an honor to be one of the few to start this pathway (student ambassador program) into APS that will allow undergraduates and graduates to be involved. The conference was an eye-opening experience for me,” Turner said. I met a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds and introduced to many opportunities in the field I never imagined.”

Turner connected with the USM Physics program after taking a physics night class at MGCC that was taught by Dr. Chris Sirola, a faculty member in the USM School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. After a discussion with Dr. Sirola about the USM Physics program, she decided to apply to the university, and after meeting with the program’s faculty members and touring its laboratories, was sold on majoring in physics.

“After meeting the program’s faculty and staff, and getting involved in USM”s Society of Physics Students (SPS), I began to feel at home. Dr. Vera, Dr. Scott, and Dr. (Khin) Maung have all been amazing teachers and mentors. They are all very inspirational, patient, and challenging.

“My involvement in SPS furthered my interests. Being able to watch kids light up and become fascinated with science motivates me to inspire others to take up the ultimate challenge of changing the world, one particle at a time.” 

Turner plans to pursue a master’s degree in biophysics after graduation and a career involving research. “Biophysics is exploding with new frontiers to explore and mysteries to solve,” she said. 

For information about the USM Physics program and the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, visit