New physics club at WHS wants students to rediscover the joys of physics


Credit: Joanna Barrow

Junior Katie Schouten recently started the new Physics Club at the high school. The club meets on Fridays at 3:20 p.m. for about half an hour, during which time Science Department Head Ken Rideout gives a presentation on a topic in physics that isn’t covered in the high school’s physics classes. “I hope people will get a greater understanding of physics, and I hope people will have a great time talking about interesting stuff,” Schouten said.

Joanna Barrow

At approximately 3:20 p.m. on March 11, junior Katie Schouten began to try and rally the attention of the twenty to thirty or so students who had gathered in the science classroom. These students waited for the first Physics Club meeting to commence as one of the newest clubs at Wayland High School.

“The plan is for us to meet on Fridays after school, just like this, and have Mr. Rideout give a short lecture or presentation on a physics topic we don’t have time to address in class,” Schouten said during the meeting. “Then we’ll have time to ask questions and talk about whatever our topic is. Right now, the plan is for us to come up with a list of potential topics.”

She got a dry erase marker and began to write down ideas as people shouted them out.

“The physics of flips,” a student shouted over the buzz of chit chat in the room.

After much cajoling, an attendee demonstrated a backflip in the back of the classroom.

Another the topic offered momentarily hushed the room.

“What came first, the chicken or the egg,” a student asked.

One student quickly declared the egg, and three students immediately agreed.

“Who thinks the chicken?” Ken Rideout, the Science Department Head at the high school and adviser for the club, said.


“I guess that settles it,” Rideout said.

The chit chat resumed. So did the brainstorming. Schouten continued writing until the board was filled, the font getting smaller and the words getting shoved into the linespace between the rows of what had once been neat list as the ideas kept coming. Included in the final menu of potential topics were black holes, Prince Rupert’s Drop and anti-matter, among others.

After the promised half an hour, Schouten adjourned the meeting, waving and offering a goodbye by name to each newly initiated Physics Club member as they filed out the door.

So far, the Physics Club has met twice, hosting a presentation each time. The first presentation featured quantum entanglement, and the second featured neutrinos, a sub-atomic particle.

Rideout said that, in both cases, the club watched a short, explanatory video that was followed by a back-and-forth among students, where they asked questions about the topic.

Schouten first came up with the idea for the club after developing a love for physics, which she said was first introduced to this year. When Schouten regularly found herself hanging back after class to ask Rideout about her lingering questions, she noticed that many of her classmates would hang back with her, interested to hear the answers. So, she took it as a sign to turn this routine into a formal club.

Rideout said that when Schouten first approached him with the idea, he “thought it was a pretty cool idea” and that “it’s always cool when students find the same things [he] likes about physics interesting.”

Schouten wanted to focus on “modern and esoteric topics in physics” that aren’t explored in depth in the curricula offered in WHS’s physics classes. While Rideout said he does mention such topics in class, the high school’s courses are “about the bread and butter topics in classical physics,” and there isn’t space to explore those modern topics in depth.

Rideout said he thought a club format could provide students with a space to connect with the joy that can be found in learning physics. To his knowledge, this will be the first club at the high school dedicated solely to discussing topics in physics.

“I think everyone is actually interested in the topics in physics,” Rideout said. “There are so many deep, fundamental questions that physics answers or tries to. It’s funny how you can take something super interesting and, sometimes, when you put it into a classroom context and are obliged to study it formally, it loses some appeal somehow. It’s like how most people love to listen to music but then when it comes down to practicing daily and refining the craft, most people just don’t have the stamina or dive to do that part of it. It’s not so different with physics.”

Schouten’s excited for the future of the club. She was happily surprised with the turn out for its first meeting, and she’s hopeful people will keep coming back. She plans to bring snacks to every meeting—the first time, the capri suns and oreos she brought were gone within minutes, and stragglers had to make do with the remaining brownie bites—but that most of all, she hopes it will be the love for physics piqued in students that compel them to return.

“I think [physics] describes the world in the language of math, which is something that’s always made sense to me,” Schouten said. “I also think that it tries to answers a lot of questions that I’ve always had about the universe, [like] how everything works, and why it works. Physics is all about that, and I think that’s really interesting.”