Psi*: Entrepreneurship Outreach with Alumni

Share This:

psistar logoPhysics Student Innovators: 

Outreach aimed at connecting physics students with real world problems for a better tomorrow, in collaboration with Sigma Pi Sigma

This program was started and developed by Professor Randy Tagg and the students at the University of Colorado Denver and Metropolitan State University of Denver. 


Download: Printable Poster and PSI* Deck of Cards

The purpose of Psi* is to bring physics students’ inventiveness to fruition through material and creative support; to foster employer, investor, and community awareness of the potential for innovation by physics students in the service of human needs; and to engage physics alumni to use their experience to aid student innovators. Psi* is designed to help undergraduate physics majors, physics graduate students, and alumni explore wider career options for a better tomorrow. 


Download Workshop Instructions


 Psi* aims to include students from all backgrounds including

  • majors
  • physics minors
  • non-majors taking physics courses
  • pre-college students
  • adult learners who are curious about the practical applications of physics.
  • physics alumni within industry, government labs, and universities (sought as mentors and co-participants in physics-enabled innovation)

Format: Psi* works well in a workshop format or with smaller groups

Length: At least one session of 60 minutes. Increase time for group sharing or more implementation.

Group size: Recommend time: At least one sessions of 60 minutes.

What does it mean to be a physics student innovator?

As a physics student innovator, you will fill three roles:

  1. a personal role, engaged in a focused creative quest that is your own conception and is driven by your own passions;
  2. a team role, working with others to define and achieve a shared goal; and
  3. an organizational role, where you will fill perform specific tasks to help an organization sustain itself in making innovation possible. 

What level of ability do you need?

  • Any grade level works: What really matters is how boldly and persistently you work to solve a problem and how astute and independent you are in gaining the knowledge needed to reach a solution. 
  • A physics student innovator can be versatile to the point of virtuosity, capable of picking up concepts and skills quickly and perfecting them on the hard anvil of real problems.
  • You may or may not be naturally attuned to practical methods and designs, but you will fill the gaps quickly and aggressively acquire the competencies you need: you will seek experts to guide you but you will also work a lot out on your own, make mistakes, learn, make more mistakes, and eventually create a highly effective competency that continues to grow.
  • The same applies to analytical modeling and numerical simulation: you are a physicist and that means your stock and trade is to devise, use, and test precise models. 
  • You must cultivate a depth of compassion and empathy for humans and for life in general. 
  • Conceiving of ways to use physics and creating prototypes require a final stage: conveying the outcome successfully to its intended user. 
  • Your activity will be varied, nonlinear, and iterative. 

Areas of Innovation

Physics for Humans


Active student innovation

Excite interest in physics as a source of innovation.


Membership and Communications Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Oversee member recruitment.
  2. Identify target audiences and reach out to them about physics and innovation, e.g., first and second year physics majors, K-12 students, community groups, inventors’ clubs, news media, etc.
  3. Form and disseminate ideas about what makes physics students well suited to innovation.
  4. Compile and disseminate examples of successful innovations by physicists (e.Chester Carlson’s invention of electrostatic copying).
  5. Explore examples of ways that physics and physicists have been sources of innovation in the local region.
  6. Create and maintain a showcase of student innovations; prepare an annual brief of innovations emerging from PSI* participants.
  7. Assemble a library of images related to physics-based innovation.
  8. Manage listserv, website, Facebook, Twitter, and physical bulletin boards as means of communication.
  9. Oversee special events to recruit and engage members.

Jump-start and support physics students as innovators.


Student Innovation Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Help students identify technical development opportunities that are matched to the students’ passions and aptitudes.
  2. Cultivate networks and information sources to support needs findin(“Market pull”)
    • Locate potential clients seeking innovation support from students. (“Market pull”)
    • Explore novel connections between active physics research and potential applications. (“Technology Push”)
    • Mine fundamental physics knowledge and other technical sources for opportunities to develop “physically interesting” innovations. (“Technology Push”)
  3. Facilitate student set-up of innovation projects
  4. Find / allocate space for development and for storage. iIdentify resources needed for project execution. iiConnect with potential mentors and advisors.
  5. Maintain an open "commons" in which there is a fluid sharing of ideas, help with troubleshooting, teaching of skills, etc.

Engage alumni as experts, mentors, sponsors and co-inventors.


Alumni Liaison and APS Local Links Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Identify alumni and their current careers
  2. Establish ongoing two-way communication with alumni to learn about their own careers and about PSI* achievements.
  3. Ask alumni to serve as technical experts, teachers, and mentors.
  4. Involve alumni as project sponsors and co-inventors.
  5. Host seminars by alumni and others involved with real-world applications of physics.
  6. Help coordinate APS “Local Links” events
    • i. Include alumni in regular PSI* events
  7. Provide special events and tours for alumn

Incubate physics student ventures.


Business Incubation Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Assist student innovators with business plan development & review.
  2. Assist student innovators with business launch.
  3. Develop & run a physicist-oriented incubator to facilitate early stage business operations.
    • Partner with established incubators (e.“Galvanize”)
    • Strategically develop in-house incubation capabilities
  4. Convene an industry-based advisory board to guide the overall program.
  5. Create a collaborative atmosphere in which different innovation groups help each other with business structuring, market assessment, financial planning, et
  6. Engage alumni with experience in venture-launchin
  7. Develop funding to support early stage development of physics-based innovation by students.

Technical support

Provide a supporting physical infrastructure.


Hyperlab Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Maintain a versatile physical space (“the Innovation Hyperlab 2.0”) whose breadth and depth of resources go well beyond common “maker spaces.”
  2. Meeting space.
    • Display gallery.
    • Open work areas.
    • Partitioned incubator spaces.
    • Fabrication area (maker space).
    • Advanced instrument bays.
    • Supply and equipment storage.
  3. Obtain and maintain technical equipment, including volunteer technical support.
  4. Stockpile supplies and manage ongoing supply chains for projects.
  5. Arrange access to specialized labs and facilities.
  6. Transport supplies and equipment as needed.
  7. Continually update and triage equipment, including tear-downs and creative “re-purposing.”
  8. Obtain and outfit trailers or containers as mobile labs.

Provide a supporting computational infrastructure.


Computational and Embedded Systems Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Obtain and maintain computer hardware
  2. Obtain and maintain computer software
    • Operating systems
    • Design applications
    • Modeling and simulation software
  3. Set up and maintain network capabilities
  4. Creatively re-purpose old computer equipment
  5. Facilitate learning about code development
  6. Develop microcontroller knowhow
  7. Develop embedded computing knowhow
  8. Develop high-performance computing knowhow
  9. Develop Internet-of-Things (IoT) knowhow

Develop and manage websites and internet-based resources.


Website Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Design, set up, and maintain main website.
  2. Set up and maintain member ListServ.
  3. Set up and maintain alumni, mentor & sponsor ListServ.
  4. Help with other website projects:
    • InventorsYear
    • iLabQuanta (Quantum Publishing)
  5. Guide student innovators in their own website & internet development.

Create and support media production facilities.


Media Production Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Develop production know-how to create media for learning and for public engagement.
  2. Develop specialized techniques for scientific, technical, product, and process photography and video.
  3. Provide cameras and lighting for still photography.
  4. Provide specialized camera equipment
    • i. Microscopes
    • ii. Underwater
    • iii. Infrared
  5. Support a wide range of video production capabilities.
    • Lab bench
    • Hand or eye tracking
    • Outdoor
    • Action cameras (“Go Pro”)
    • Drone cameras
  6. Deploy audio recording and synthesis resources.
  7. Develop animation and virtual reality resources.


Foster technical competencies & achievements.


Learning Coordinator for Technical Competencies

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Identify and assist with the creation of desired modules for on-demand learning / “pop-up courses” about technical competencies in practical design and methods (mechanics, electronics, optics, etc.), with special attention to connections to fundamental physics. (See Appendix A)
  2. Identify and assist with the creation of desired modules for on-demand learning of a corresponding range of computational competencies in numerical simulation, parallel computing, data visualization, statistical analysis, etillustrated through their application to device, process, and service innovation.
  3. Sustain a community of local experts amongst fellow students and alumni who help bring newcomers up to speed on technical skills and applications. Engage alumni as certifiers of student achievement of key technical competencies.
  4. Maintain resources for curriculum development and dissemination
    • “Inventors Year” website.
    • Jupyter notebooks. (Interactive documents with embedded computer code.)
    • iiKits easily transported off-site to support individual and group learnin

Develop business know-how.


Learning Coordinator for Business Competencies

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Organize informal and formal study of best practices in creating and managing businesses. (See Appendix B.)
  2. Run seminars for alumni and other experienced practitioners to present how to run physics-based businesses.
  3. Connect with university business and legal communities (e.entrepreneurship center)
  4. Develop relationships with business support entities (e.g, small business development centers, local incubators, business counseling nonprofits, business and innovation meetup groups, patent office, etc.)
  5. Identify other events and opportunities related to business practic

Cultivate understanding of human needs, desires, and circumstances.


Coordinator for Human-Oriented Design

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Arrange collaborations with students specializing in human observation (anthropology, psychology, social sciences, business marketing) to do field work and run focus groups in support of specific innovations.
  2. Connect with government and non-profit agencies serving human needs.
  3. Promote learning about design aesthetics.
  4. Develop know-how using “big data” and “analytics” to support design.
  5. Help student innovators assess wider impacts, including possible unintended consequences.
  6. Promote active engagement with arts & humanities
    • Special events (museum visits, theater, etc.)
    • Reading selections (novels, plays, poetry, current events books, etc.)
    • Collaboration with artists and writers
  7. Facilitate learning about the history and current issues in the interplay of science, technology & society.
  8. Run seminars by people active in humanistic fields.
  9. Develop “residencies” for artists, writers, historians, social scientists, etwithin PSI* programs and facilities (including the Hyperlab).

Manage and disseminate knowledge assets.


Knowledge Asset Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Record PSI* activities.
  2. Maintain portfolio of PSI* knowledge assets via formal documentation of operational practices. (Important note: This is distinct from student knowledge assets generated through their projects and controlled by the students themselves.)
  3. Organize workshops on PSI* methods for encouraging student innovation.
  4. Maintain and manage access to an archive of student-generated solutions to recurring technical problems. (“Quantum Publishing.”)
  5. Manage relationship with university tech transfer office and oversee communications regarding university intellectual property policies.
  6. Coordinate learning about intellectual property strategies and management
    • Maintain connections with the US Patent and Trademark Office
    • Organize learning opportunities about intellectual property
    • Organize learning about the patent processM
    • Organize learning about establishing copyrights and trademarks
  7. Coordinate open source strategies and production. Explore ways to maintain competitive advantage in an open-source framework
    • Conceptual elegance and sophisticationM
    • Outstanding execution throughout a product life cycle or term of service.
    • Over-the-horizon vision of technical improvements.
    • Active give and take in collaborative innovation
    • Mindful and caring relations with collaborators, clients, and customers.
  8. Distribute an annual physics student innovation “brief” highlighting recent innovation achievements by physics students and graduates.

Organizational ecosystem

Connect with employers, investors, business development centers, and professional societies.


Industry liaison and Networking Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Enlist a thriving network of industry, investor, business development, and professional society contacts.
  2. Distribute material that explains why a physics student/graduate will add value to a corporate design team. (Consider something similar to the1960’s gasoline ad “Put a Tiger in Your Tank”)
  3. Generate interest in providing and sponsoring projects.
  4. Identify and sustain coop and internship opportunities.
  5. Manage networking via LinkedIn, ResearchGate, et
  6. Develop international connections.

Integrate programs with the community.


Community Outreach Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Identify community issues where physics student innovators can meaningfully contribut
  2. Distribute material to generate interest in including physics students in community planning and problem-solvin
  3. Pair physics student mentors with high school students to engage in innovation projects.
  4. Support K-12 school and youth club innovation satellite labs.
  5. Involve K-12 teachers and youth club leaders in innovation program.

Obtain and manage funding.


Financial Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Revenues
    • Student organization funds
    • Grants
    • Student venture seed funding
    • Philanthropy – monetary
    • Philanthropy – in-kind donations of equipment & supplies
    • Contracts / consultancies / clinics
    • Learning certification
  2. Expenditures
    • Personnel
    • Physical location (purchase or rental)
    • Physical plant operating costs (utilities etc.)
    • Capital equipment
    • Supplies
    • Services
    • Events & travel

Ensure diversity, integrity, openness, and safety.


Diversity, Integrity, and Safety Coordinator

Ideas for Specific Actions

  1. Pro-actively ensure that participation is open to all regardless of gender, ethnicity, cultural background, faith, sexual orientation
  2. Ensure that claims about goals, products, and capabilities are accurate and well supporte
  3. Ensure that PSI* decision making and operational processes are open and transparent.
  4. Review engagements with partners and clients to ensure commitment to the truth regardless of impact on the business relationship.
  5. Develop and publish ideas about integrity as a primary asset.
  6. Oversee and inform members about safety practices.
  7. Oversee and inform members about compliance issues.

Further information

Articles focused on entrepreneurship:


Development of the PSIstar was led by Randy Tagg and now supported by the Society of Physics Students for the embetterment of all of us. The concept and early implementation as a student organization at the University of Colorado Denver was funded in part by the National Science Foundation IUSE program under grant DUE-1624938. This grant was part of the PIPELINE network of collaborating institutions working to foster learning and experiences combining physics, innovation, and entrepreneurship.