Girls + Physics Summer Camp = Energy + Fun
University Student Club Hopes Program Helps Rewrite Science Gender Equation
From rockets to edible car races, middle-school girls are exploring the fun of physics at UT Dallas again this summer, courtesy of the university student group Women in Physics (WiP).
This year’s theme is space, with a nod to the university’s mascot, the Comets.
“Middle school is when the interest of girls in science and mathematics tends to decline dramatically,” said Dr. Mary Urquhart, UT Dallas assistant professor of science/mathematics education and WiP adviser.
“The camps were started to help reverse that trend for young girls in our area who have been identified by their teachers as having an aptitude for the physical sciences,” said Urquhart, who is also co-director of UTeach Dallas.
Girls get a week of hands-on explorations at the camp on UT Dallas campus. Teaching assistant Stephanie Rafferty designed and leads the camp, assisted by five graduate and undergraduate students from the Department of Physics and the Department of Science and Mathematics Education.
“The girls take on the roles of NASA scientists and administrators to design their own space mission,” Rafferty said. “The young ladies seem to enjoy the many experiments the camps offer.”
The edible car race involves making cars entirely from food to discover which designs can roll the fastest (if at all) down an incline.
Urquhart said it’s important to understand that the camps are run and designed by UT Dallas students.
“Although faculty do play a role in camp content and some camp activities, it’s the students in WiP who do the vast majority of the work, and that’s what I think should be recognized,” Urquhart said.
“I feel honored to have advised this group of dedicated young women since the organization first started in 2003,” Urquhart said. “The camps for middle school girls have always been the primary focus for the Women in Physics, and one the members themselves had chosen.”
The UT Dallas Women in Physics begin raising funds for the camp each fall, design the programs, and serve as camp staff. Girls are recruited through area sixth- and seventh-grade teachers who are asked to nominate girls. Each nominee submits an essay to be considered for participation.
Rafferty also has had help from four high school students who attended camps in previous years.
The camps are free, made possible by support from:
- The School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
- The Departments of Physics and Science and Mathematics Education.
- The joint UT Dallas/NASA/Air Force CINDI project.
- The Texas Astronomical Society.
Camp students build circuits with soldering kits and learn Morse code.
During an exploration of atomic structure, camp participants see for themselves what happens when Mentos candy is dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke. (Watch this video if you don’t know.)