Monday, October 12, 2015

Physics Phun for Everyone

This past Saturday, the Department held an open house for prospective students to learn more about what it means to be a physics major at JMU. Dr.Virani, Director of the John C. Wells Planetarium, talked to the potential students and their parents about academic life, research opportunities, and how physics can benefit on an inter-disciplinary level.  After hearing Dr. Virani, the students then explored the Department and talked to the professors and students upstairs.

While Dr. Virani and the research labs were upstairs entertaining the students already interested in the major, a team of students were downstairs showing off the "phun" of physics to the general public, and getting even more students to consider physics at JMU.  Needless to say, we blinded them with science.

Here we showed people how great static electricity can easily be produced by the "rubbing off" of charges, even if the source of power is man-driven.  This setup also showed the public how those charges can break any insulation in the air to cause a small lightning strike, as well as how the distance between the two charged points increases the probability of discharge.

Audiences marveled at the long streaks of electricity produced by the Van der Graffe, and at how rapidly electricity could be shot from the charged ball to the grounding stick.

All while the user remains unharmed!

They were even more impressed when they saw the electric discharge go through an uncharged metal sphere to get to the grounding stick, thus completing a circuit.

As with any good physics demonstration, we persuaded people to trust us and touch the Van der Graffe so their hair would stick up.

Many did so, and even more talked with us about the physics of the charge distribution, how the circuit is completed using your own body, and what happens where your hands are taken away.

Thanks to all of the students and faculty who helped make the Physics and Astronomy open house a reality, as well as all of the people who visited us!

We hope to see you experimenting with angular momentum in our halls again!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

2016 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

The next Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics is approaching. The closest conference to JMU will be hosted by Old Dominion University and Jefferson Lab.  The conference will start with a welcome reception Friday evening, January 15, 2016, and ends Sunday afternoon, January 17
There are only 9 days left to apply for one of the 2016 Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. The application site is now open and closes October 16, 2015.  

The keynote presentation will be given by Ginger Kerrick, who is a flight director at Johnson Space Center, and will be webcast to all nine regional conferences.   The Saturday after dinner speaker at Old Dominion University is Dr. Kathryn Flanagan  the interim director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Telescope.  In addition, we will have the following activities:
  1.  Presentations by professional physicists on their cutting edge research and personal career  paths; 
  2.  Panels featuring career opportunities outside academia, professional skills, and resiliency;
  3.  Workshops or panels offering guidance on how to get involved in summer research, the graduate  school application process, and preparing for and applying for jobs in industry; 
  4.  An opportunity for undergraduate attendees to present their research in a poster session; 
  5.  A tour of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility;
  6.  A graduate school and career fair with resources from national physics-related societies. 
Lodging and meals will be provided for participants who are accepted to the conference.

More information on the Old Dominion University/Jefferson Lab can be found onthe website: Websites for the other conference sites are given on the APS page at

Monday, October 05, 2015

A New Face in the Stockroom

The Department welcomes Jacob Brown as the new Lab Manager and successor to the now retired Art Fovargue.  While Jacob has been around the full student body for only a month, he is already greatly impressed by the energy, friendliness, and professionalism of the physics majors.  “A lot of the students have been open… and I’ve gotten to know a few by name and also what research they’re doing,” says Jacob, who feels like the community has taken him in since day one.

Jacob enjoys how much more energy there is in the academic community than the private industry, much of which comes from the dynamic pace of week to week lab schedules.  While he’s cautious to make sure the labs works properly, Jacob is very much eager to perform hands-on experiments across a wide array of physical topics.  He also takes full advantage of the “educational opportunities” provided by the department, be it seminars or just talking with students and faculty about their fields of research.

            Although Jacob had a peak interest in Environmental Physics after undergrad, his advice for students going into the private sector is anything but narrow.  “One thing good for me was to try some different career categories,” says Jacob, who advises that having a “broadened experience” will lead to a much more fulfilling career than otherwise.  “Look at a lot of options… Take what interests you more than what pays more.  You’ll contribute a lot of your life to this work.”  Jacob also suggests that during interviews, prospective employees should “make the interview a comfortable atmosphere… not just a drill…  Be sure to convey to the employer your energy and genuine interest in the company.”  Lastly, Jacob strongly suggests applicants always “overdress for an interview….  I was always surprised at how much this affected [employers’] perceptions of candidates.”

            You can find Jacob in the Stockroom (PHYS 2354) office, where the door is always open for science and good company.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Atomic Layer Deposition: Russia 2015

On September 21-23 2015, Dr. Scarel participated to the Symposium on Atomic Layer Deposition: Russia 2015.  The event took place in Moscow and was hosted by the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Dr. Scarel was invited to present her research on Atomic layer deposition for rare earth oxides and thermoelectric thin films”.  She described her research before joining JMU and her research at JMU with our undergraduate students.  The symposium is historic in the Atomic Layer Deposition field because for the first time the Russian, European, and North American ALD teams confronted each other face-to-face.  Below is a picture of the participants.  Dr. Scarel is on the top row, toward the left ..... in the middle of the crowd.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"You're the Expert" with Dr. Anca Constantin

This past Thursday, our own Dr. Anca Constantin joined a gut-busting troupe of comedians at the Court Square Theatre for “You’re the Expert,” with Chris Duffy.

Along with Duffy and Dr. Constantin, the comedy cocktail included Anna Drezen, the associate editor of ReductressMaeve Higgins from Inside Amy Schumer, and Nick Vatterott of Comedy Central.   

Throughout the night, the comedians had to guess at topics such as Dr. Constantin’s title, research focus, personal life, and various astronomy terms and acronyms.  Laughter rang aloud throughout the night, with jokes including astronauts with space shotguns and space whiskey, the ethics of interplanetary affairs, and that the Bootes Void is right under Orion’s Belt.  

Despite the ensemble of laughter, the night was dedicated to the integration of comedy with education.  While there were educational aspects within much of the comedy, such as highlighting the difference between astronomy and astrology, proper time was dedicated to focus in on Dr. Constantin’s experience as an Astronomer and Professor.  During this time, she touched on what inspired her, the current state of astronomy, and the potential of her research.

If the comedians on stage gave any indication of the audience (both of whom didn’t have any previous knowledge on the subject), then everyone was thoroughly intrigued by the vastness and wonder of astronomical research. We thank Chris, Nick, Maeve, and Anna for coming to Harrisonburg to make us laugh while we learn, and learn while we laugh.

Dr. Constantin’s comedy hour was recorded in front of a live viewing audience, and will be posted on the “You’re the Expert” podcast on iTunesStitcher, and SoundCloud.  There you can also catch previous episodes of “You’re the Expert,” with new entries added semiweekly!

Talking Physics with Chris Duffy of NPR's "You're the Expert"

We've all been there: you're reading a textbook when, suddenly, the word “Clearly” precedes an equation that came straight out of left field.  You question where this came from, why and if this matters, and even your own intelligence.  More often than not this is exactly how our friends and loved ones feel when we try to talk to them about our Newtonian passions. 

Chris Duffy, host of “You’re the Expert,” knows the value and challenge of communicating scientific ideas with those outside of the academic bubble.  On his radio show, Duffy hosts a conversation between a professor and several comedians, making the learning experience more available through comedy.

The Department hosted Duffy for this week’s seminar, which was an interactive workshop on how the students and faculty can better engage the general populous with scientific thought.  This included recognizing audience mannerisms, maintaining a proper communication link, and the importance of answering questions authentically. 

These are certainly skills that we, as members of the scientific community, must be familiar with, both in the classroom and outside.  We thank Chris Duffy for coming to James Madison to make us laugh, remind us of the importance of public outreach, and teach us how to do both!

You can listen to previous entries of Chris Duffy’s “You’re the Expert” for free in the Podcast section of iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud, with new episodes added semiweekly!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Meet This Year’s Student Blogger: Evan Meekins

The newly (last year’s) established tradition, to have a student blog for this house (department, that is) continues this year with… Evan Meekins.  We bid Keely fair well in her new journey into graduate school in physics at Emory University.

Evan was an easy and rather obvious choice, albeit from among a few passionate applicants for this position.   Evan is a published author.  "The Black Banner" is his first book, and fans of fantasy fiction and those new or unfamiliar to the genre are strongly encouraged to give it a read.  He confesses that this is only the first in a series of fantasy fiction novels which revolve around the fictional land of Verden amidst, obviously, quite a variety of enchanting adventures.    Here is a good place to start.

You have read about his accomplishments in nuclear astrophysics here and here.  He spent last summer as a SUPERS at University of Pennsylvania as one of the interns in this prestigious undergraduate program for educating radiation scientists. 

He plans to enchant us with a post per week.   Nevertheless, chances are we might see more than that from him.  He seems unstoppable.    While, in his own words, the work ethic of a student author cannot be a game of “catch-up”, but rather it needs need to be a “finish ASAP” mentality in order for any real time to be given to writing, he wholeheartedly applied for this position, and he is on a roll on this new endeavor. 

We had an unusual visit for our seminar last week, and Evan’s first post with impressions about this (double) event is coming soon.  Get ready for yet another fantastic ride on News and Feats from JMU’s Physics and Astronomy Department. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

JMU Physics Faculty lecturing at an International Nuclear Physics Summer School

Dr. Adriana Banu has been invited recently to give lectures at the 2nd NUBA International Nuclear Physics Summer School organized by the Akdeniz University, in Antalya, Turkey. The topic of Dr. Banu's lectures was primarily focused on Analog and Digital Electronics in Nuclear Physics Experiments.

During her stay at the the Akdeniz University, Dr. Banu also took the opportunity to visit their local clinical electron linear accelerator, a bremsstrahlung research facility similar to the JMU's Madison Radiation Laboratory scheduled now to become accessible in the Madison Hall by Fall of 2016.

Madison Hall making it one of the very few undergraduate departments in the nation to have an on-campus nuclear physics facility. - See more at:
Madison Hall making it one of the very few undergraduate departments in the nation to have an on-campus nuclear physics facility. - See more at:
Madison Hall making it one of the very few undergraduate departments in the nation to have an on-campus nuclear physics facility. - See more at: