Section: Features

Inclusivity in physics gains momentum with Gamma Rays

Inclusivity in physics gains momentum with Gamma Rays

Isabel Braun ’26 using the goniometer. | COURTESY OF OLIVIA FAIRLAMB

Look out, Great North American Eclipse, there is another physics highlight this month: Gamma Rays. Formerly called Women in Physics, the club changed its name to better represent its mission of fostering an inclusive space for people of all underrepresented gender identities in physics. Named after the electromagnetic wave with the highest energy, the Gamma Rays are poised to become a dynamic presence in the science quad. 

“We don’t want to necessarily approach Gamma Rays as a ‘women in physics’ club, because that language there can be isolating. And for a space that we want to be inclusive, we really want to emphasize that it’s for everyone who feels not seen, not represented, or just a little intimidated by the cis-male dominated space of physics,” Olivia Fairlamb ’26, one of Gamma Rays’ founding members, said in an interview with the Collegian

“According to data published by the American Institute of Physics, approximately 25% of those earning bachelor’s degrees in physics between 2019 and 2023 identified as women, and 0.3% identified as non-binary,” Professor of Physics Paula Turner wrote in an email to the Collegian. The statistics for Kenyon are slightly higher: “[Over the same period], more than one-third…of our graduating physics majors have identified as women, and another four percent have identified as non-binary,” she wrote.

“The general trend over the past decade has been growth in [the] total number of students majoring in physics and relative percentage of women among those [students],” Turner said. 

The club got its start when Eve Currens ’25  noticed that the American Physics Society was offering a grant to support student groups aiming to improve gender representation in physics. After meetings between physics students across three different class years, the group came to form Gamma Rays. They reached out to Turner and Associate Professor of Physics Madeline Wade, and after getting faculty support, applied for the grant. 

Physics has long been perceived as a notoriously challenging subject. Its difficulty can deter people from considering physics classes, and discourage students already in those classes from choosing it as a major. The antidote to that, according to Fairlamb, is community: “The thing that really works about [the] Kenyon [Department of] Physics in general is that we do a lot of activities together, and we form a very strong community. […] We want to make sure that the community is fostered so that if someone chooses not to continue with physics, it’s because they find they don’t like it, and not because they think they can’t do it, or they don’t have the support.”

The club hosted its first meeting on March 26 in Hayes. After a presentation to introduce the club, the attendees got to know each other through icebreaker games and questions. One of the questions was “If you could add anything to Hayes, what would it be?” The answers varied from a cafe to a waterslide. The attendees then discussed their expectations for the club: “We talked about how we want it to be a space where people can come and meet each other and have fun, but also […] have the support they need,” Fairlamb said. After the discussion, music, physics-related coloring books and more lively conversations ensued. 

The club has several activities in mind for the future. One is a weekly Gamma Rays study session where students can work on physics problems together, or simply have snacks while forming connections. Fun events unrelated to physics — such as karaoke nights — are also in the works.

One tradition of the Department of Physics is the weekly colloquium where speakers from different colleges deliver a presentation on their specialized topics. Gamma Rays is hoping to create opportunities for its members to talk to the speakers in more personal settings such as over tea or meals. The topics of conversation can range from physics knowledge to the speaker’s personal experience in the field such as gender-based challenges. 

While Kenyon students will soon see those plans carried out in the future, when asked what a totally unrealistic goal Gamma Rays want to achieve would be, Fairlamb responded: “I guess probably [to] get a famous physicist to talk to us. It would be crazy if we could get like Jocelyn Bell Burnell.” Burnell was the astrophysicist who discovered the first radio pulsars, a discovery that earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974; however, the prize was awarded to Burnell’s male advisor and not her. On the more realistic side of the agenda, another goal is to organize a group trip to a conference or museum of the group’s choosing

Students interested in physics are encouraged to come to Gamma Rays next meeting for phood, phun and phriends. 

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