Staff

Meet Our Crew: The people that keep PSSA going vary from graduate students to college professors. Below are pictures of the people that keep this program alive each year.

Peter Harnish (he/him)
Program Director

Background: My day job is writing and running the instructional labs as well as head TA wrangler for the UPenn Physics Department. Before coming to UPenn, my previous lives included theoretical graphene research, experimental quantum optics, museum education, wilderness survival teacher, and selling equipment on the Appalachian Trail.

Personal: An esoterically read “trivial wealth of knowledge,” likes to carry a child in each hand, pretends to be a Dwarven Cleric but is really a Hafling Sorcerer

Mary Marcopul (she/her)
Head Instructor

Background: I work at UPenn as the Physics and Astronomy Department’s Lecture Demonstration Coordinator (coming on as Bill retired).  Prior to this, I taught Physics, Math and Computer Science for almost twenty years.  I have taught everything from physical science to calculus based, AP Physics (AP C).  I have been with the EPRA program since 2004.

Personal: Outside of work, I have three children (14, 8, and 5 years old), am an expert face mask maker, and enjoy singing and playing roller derby (sometimes at the same time).

Bill Berner (he/him)
Director Emeritus
Program Founder

Background:  Had the world’s second best job for 25 years: teaching high school physics.  Then moved on to the world’s best job for the next 25 years: running Penn’s Physics Demonstration lab .  I am currently on hiatus, wondering what to be when I grow up.

Personal:  My major distractions involve cars, cameras, climbing, and trying to read all the books I’ve accumulated over the last 73 years.

Batkie at Livermore Cyclotron

Ryan Batkie  (he/him)
Instructor

Background: I have been teaching physics in myriad venues since 2007: public high schools in Philadelphia and New York, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a private school outside of Philly. I am now a resident science education expert for the UPenn Department of Physics and Astronomy. Which means I help professors and instructors think critically about what learning science means, how to recognize it, and how we should try to make more of it happen. I am writing a dissertation on the relationship between democratic citizenship and school science. (Having to write that sentence in the present tense and not the past tense is making me sad in this moment.)

Personal:A 4-year-old named Violet is the center of my universe. I’ve been known to play music, make things out of wood with power tools, take long bicycle trips involving camping gear carried on said bike, kayak, scuba dive…to scratch the surface. I grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan. I’m vegan.


Jesse Greenlan (he/him)
Instructor

Background: I am a graduate student in the UPenn Physics Department, where I spend my time researching granular materials, assistant teaching various physics courses, and arguing loudly with my peers about game mechanics. I can also be found using increasingly dangerous physics demonstrations at various events in Philadelphia. My undergraduate work was in colloidal self assembly, eating, and sleeping, and I aced 2 out of the 3.

Personal: Spends hours crafting the perfect thesis for why an internet comment was wrong only to delete it before hitting send.

Steven Gassner
Grad TA

Background: I’m originally from upstate New York, and my undergraduate degree is in Nanoscale Science. I did a lot of physics tutoring during undergrad, and that certainly influenced my decision to go for my PhD in Physics starting Fall 2020. My research interest is in quantum condensed matter theory, particularly how light can influence interactions between electrons in a material. Electrons are much more interesting when they’re not social distancing.

Personal:The YouTube algorithm recommends me an even mix of absurd meme videos and physics lectures, because it’s figured out that I’m equally likely to click on either.