Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Yet another case of JMUAstro students totally rocking at the AAS229

As the title says, our department's astronomy face was once again showing awesome data and results, along with grins and smiles at the most prestigious national conference in astronomy.

During the first week of January, three of our undergraduates, Catherine Witherspoon, Jason Ferguson, and Kenny Gordon, presented their works at the 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), in Grapevine, Texas.

For Kenny it was the first AAS meeting, while Catherine and Jason were now basically veterans (their first AAS participation was last year, at the 227th AAS meeting, presented to you here).

When you work hard on interesting projects and have nice results, you have to let the world know about them.  And they rocked:

Catherine unfolded new understanding of how colors of quasars are measured, based on the work she pursued during her Summer 2016 REU at the University of Wyoming:  New Quasar Surveys with WIRO: Colors of ~1000 Quasars at 0 < z < 3.  

Jason enchanted the audience with brand-new and sophisticated data of interacting galaxies from the Large Binocular Telescope, with his poster: Near-Infrared Spectroscopic Analysis of Galaxy Mergers: Revealing Obscured Accretion.   This project was possible thanks to funds from the 4-VA initiative at JMU, for collaboration between JMU and GMU astronomy faculty. 

Kenny presented: Image Analysis of OSIRIS-REx Touch-And-Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) Thermal Vacuum Test Images, which is work that he developed during past summer as an intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  

Catherine, Jason and Kenny are all seniors, and are quite engrossed into graduate school applications right now, so wish them best of luck with these tedious, yet, still creative endeavors (as part of their applications, they need to write about the research projects they envision for their future graduate thesis).  

We will keep you posted with their successes, just stay tuned.

Friday, December 09, 2016

JMU Physics Shines at SESAPS

The 83rd annual meeting of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society (SESAPS) was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, hosted by UVA’s Department of Physics at the Omni Hotel on November 10-12, 2016. The meeting consisted of many contributed talks and posters, including presentations from a few JMU Physics students.

Two students from the Niculescu’s lab and two students from Dr. Hughes’ lab attended this year’s SESAPS. They were: Will Kemmerer and Eric Moeller, and Nick Sipes and Yvonne Kinsella.

Eric Moeller, a JMU Physics senior working with the Niculescu’s, gave his talk titled “Lab Automation and Afterpulsing in Photomultiplier Tubes.”  His talk consisted of an explanation of how the lab is automated, and of how this automation helps him to test the tubes.  By programming machines to “talk to each other automatically,” the amount of time that it takes to run a test has gone from three hours to about forty-five minutes.  “Afterpulsing” is an event that happens during a test run where an extra signal is sent out by the photomultiplier tube that can disrupt data collection.

Will Kemmerer, a JMU Physics junior also working with the Niculescu’s, gave a talk on his research which involves calculating detected quantum efficiency, and the gain multiple for photomultiplier tubes (PMTs). In his talk, he discussed how the overarching goal is to group PMTs by the probability they have to detect a photon, and the output at high voltages which will be used in an accelerator at Jefferson Lab. He also discussed that, since afterpulsing of PMTs does not significantly change as PMTs are heated, they don’t have to worry about the gain multiple changing if the cooling system shuts down while a PMT is in the detector.

JMU Physics Senior, Nick Sipes, at the podium for his
talk on electroless nickel plating.
Another JMU Physics senior, Nick Sipes, also gave a talk on his research done with Dr. Hughes. His talk was titled “Selective Electroless Nickel Plating on PMMA using Chloroform Pre-Treatment.”  Dr. Hughes’ research lab has found in the past that chloroform pre-treatment on a substrate (specifically PMMA) can improve adhesion of gold to it when depositing the metal using magnetron sputtering. Nick’s project looked at a new technique for metal deposition and a new metal that has not been tested by Dr. Hughes’ research lab before. Electroless plating works a lot like electro-plating, except there is no cathode in the solution and your substrate essentially acts as the cathode. Ultimately, Nick discussed that he found that electroless plating of Nickel onto PMMA is improved with the use of chloroform exposure prior to the  metal deposition.

Yvonne Kinsella presented her poster titled “Adhesion of Au Thin Films on PMMA and Other Substrates.”   The main focus of the poster was on the process used for testing how well the gold thin films adhere to a substrate. That process is to polish the Au off the substrate and to quantify it either by using a UV-Vis spectrophotometer or by scanning images of the samples and running a program written in MATLAB which converts the image into threshold and then counts the darker pixels (the idea is that the darker pixels are where the gold is on the surface and as the samples are polished that number should decrease).   Mainly, the poster discussed this process and polishing data for the case when PMMA is a substrate however, the use of glass was also discussed.  In the future, she hopes to work with different polymer substrates to see if the results are similar to what has been found for PMMA so far.

By presenting research at this year’s SESAPS, these students have represented the JMU Department of Physics & Astronomy and shown what is going on in our department to the larger scientific community.  Additionally, they have been awarded experience of presenting research in a professional environment, which will help them in their future beyond JMU.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year

            We recently had the pleasure of having Sonia Faletti, the first recipient of the James Madison University High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award, visit JMU. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation about her background, her journey to teaching high school physics, her interests, and the exciting ways in which she inspires the future generations of scientists.
            Mrs. Faletti currently works at Bishop Ireton High School, though when she was a student at Stanford she initially studied math and computer science. After switching to physics, Sonia Faletti worked as a TA in a lab and realized that she liked teaching. Mrs. Faletti started off teaching kindergarten, and enjoyed how hands-on it was. However, she decided that a classroom full of five year-old children was not where she wanted to be. Upon moving from California to Virginia, Mrs. Faletti decided she wanted to switch to high school. She got a job at Bishop Ireton High School and said it was "like coming home".
            Mrs. Faletti engages her students with different activities and demonstrations, from pulling out a tablecloth from underneath plates, etc., to playing with roller-skates in class. As she explained, "any day with a lab in it is a good day". Having her Master's in Physics Education from the University of Virginia,  she thinks that labs, simulations, peer reviews, and other activities are better for promoting learning than lecturing.
            Still, not all activities are created equal, and Mrs. Faletti has her own favorite labs. She explained that one of her favorite labs is finding the terminal velocity of coffee filters. Mrs. Faletti also likes having students do projectile motion with a tennis ball launcher, though. As far as the students go, Mrs. Falleti thinks they enjoy the trip to 6 Flags to do physics, either using analog accelerometers or an app on their phones called "graphical analysis" by Vernier. Mrs. Faletti has even used the app to graph the acceleration of the elevator in the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France!
            While talking about Bishop Ireton High School, Mrs. Faletti explained that all of the students are required to take physics classes, but she only teaches the honor classes. Some of her previous students have since majored in physics, some have gone pre-med., and some have studied engineering. Mrs. Faletti said that she actually hopes to teach an engineering class next year. Mrs. Faletti currently teaches two classes emphasizing climate change physics, which she explained is both an energy issue and a justice issue. Part of the class focuses on different ways to produce electricity, and the responsibility of first-world countries to act against climate change.
            Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Faletti is still extremely excited about different "science projects". Currently, she is building a 3D printer with her son using 3D printed parts. Mrs. Faletti is also looking forward to seeing the solar eclipse next August, and hopes it will interest more people in science.