by Lindsey Thaler
In the winter of 2008, I was finishing up my senior year as a physics major at OSU. At that same time, I was the treasurer of the Society of Women in Physics (SWiP) and we were brainstorming ways to increase the number of undergraduate women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. The SWiP officers and I decided to meet with members of the Undergraduate Studies Office in the Department of Physics to come up with a plan to reach out to middle school age girls and introduce them to the world of physics.
Dr. Richard Hughes, who was the Vice-Chair for Undergraduate Studies at the time, suggested that we create a physics summer camp. This was a great idea! But, it was already March. Would we have enough time to pull this off in time for summer? We had to create a name, come up with an application process, design a logo, find funding, gather volunteers, create activities, and more. Could we do this? In addition to focusing on doing well in the remainder of my courses, wrapping up my research in high energy physics, and looking for a full time job, would I be able do this?
By the end of May we had 23 applicants, the camp schedule was finalized, a name for the camp had been decided, and t-shirts with the newly created camp logo had been ordered. There were only a few details left to finalize and we were so excited and relieved that this was panning out to be a success.
The camp was named GRASP (Girls Reaching to Achieve in Sports and Physics). The goal, we decided, was to offer a day camp for middle school age girls so they can come to campus and learn the physics behind every day activities, like sports. By tying physics back to everyday life activities, the campers would be able to relate to the concepts better and therefore be more interested in learning them. The activities we chose included the physics of basketball, ice skating, kick-boxing, rock wall climbing, and swimming. Our plan was for the campers to learn about a physics concept, like the physics of basketball, from a physics faculty member each morning. Then, in the afternoons, the campers would go play the sport they just learned about. That way, they could feel and see the physics behind the sport as they played. Other camp activities would include building rockets, learning about superconductivity, building catapults, making slime, and making ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
The first day of camp was on Monday June 23, 2008. Going in to it, we had absolutely no idea how it was going to go, but by the end of day one, I knew we had created something amazing. The campers were having so much fun learning physics! They loved the activities, the demos, and even the lectures. It was clear to me that the campers were paying attention to what they were learning. For example, Dr. Brian Winer, a physics professor, taught the girls the physics of flight. His presentation included the differences between floating and flying. A few days later, while we were walking through campus to get to an activity, one of the campers turned to me and said, “It’s so hot outside! I wish I could fly there. Not float, fly!”
One of my favorite GRASP moments was in 2011. The girls were watching a physics demo show that included making smoke rings using a smoke machine and a trashcan with a hole in the bottom. Unfortunately one of the smoke rings hit the smoke detector and triggered the fire alarm. Everyone had to evacuate the building and a few minutes later, several fire trucks showed up. Initially I felt bad that the demo show had been cut short, but I quickly noticed that the girls were super excited about the whole incident.
We are now preparing for the 6th annual GRASP Summer Camp (scheduled for June 2013) and the number of applicants has risen from 23 in 2008 to over 100 in 2012. Other activities we’ve included in GRASP since 2008 include the physics of football, archery, gymnastics, and biking. We’ve also taken field trips to the Air Force Museum and to COSI (Center of Science and Industry in Columbus). Robin Patterson and I are the co-directors of GRASP and we are very thankful for the ongoing support from the Department of Physics faculty, staff, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduate students. I wish I could thank everyone by name in this article.
The first year of the GRASP summer camp would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the 2007-2008 SWiP group, including Katie Malone and Jessica Hanzlik, and physics faculty and staff including Dr. James Beatty, Dr. Richard Hughes, Dr. Nandini Trivedi, Dr. Lou DiMauro, Dr. Brian Winer, Dr. Linn Van Woerkom, Robin Patterson, Harold Whitt, and John Langkals.
Additional information about GRASP, including a link to the 2013 application, can be found at
About Lindsey Thaler
Lindsey Thaler is a graduate of the OSU undergraduate physics program and is currently the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Physics. She lives in Columbus with her husband, Aaron, who is an engineer and her cat, Ollie. In her free time, she enjoys photography and refinishing furniture.