Monday, January 22, 2018

The 2018 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

The attendees of the 2018 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at University of Virginia

The 2018 regional APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) was held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA and was held from Friday, Jan 12th – Sunday, Jan 14th.  The JMU Physics & Astronomy students attended the event were: Natali Bushamani (’18), Yvonne Kinsella (’18), Katie Porter (’18), Alle Goodis (’19), Maeven Luedke (’20), Sloane McNeill (’20), Nicole Voce (’20), Mary Ogborn (’21), and Aliyah Hall (’21).   Dr. Iona Niculescu, also from JMU, was a member of Sunday’s panel on undergraduate research.

The weekend opened on Friday night with a speech from the University of Virginia’s provost, Dr. Thomas Katsouleas, followed by the first keynote talk given by Prof. Elizabeth H. Simmons, who is the Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at UC San Diego.

On Saturday, the day began with lab tours that the attendees chose from which include the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, The Radiation Oncology Center at the UVA Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, as well as various labs related to materials science and engineering, theoretical physics, and experimental physics.

In the late morning, various short presentations were given by many women during which they discussed their own paths in physics and how gendered issues made an impact on them. The speakers included: Prof. Gail Dodge, the Dean of A&S at Old Dominion University, Dr. Cynthia Keppel, the leader of Jefferson Lab Halls A & C, Prof. Christine Nattrass, assistant professor at University of Tennessee, Prof. Petra Reinke, associate professor of materials science at University of Virginia, Dr. Stefania Perrucci, a business woman from Philadelphia, and Prof. Fulvia Pilat, a scientist at Oak Ridge National Lab.

Dr. Patricia Burchat, the national keynote speaker
for CUWiP 2018.
In the afternoon, the national conference keynote speaker’s presentation was livestreamed to all Dr. Patricia Burchat, The Gabilan Professor of the Physics Department at Stanford University, spoke about her life and research. Her bio in the event program explains how she is a first-generation high school graduate from a small area of Canada that didn’t even have a high until she started the ninth grade. She is part of an international team of scientists that are preparing for analysis of data from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. 

The second keynote speaker for the UVa conference, Prof. Shohini Ghose. Her bio from the even program states that her research examines the laws of quantum physics for how they can be harnessed to transform computation and communication, and that she and her colleagues made the first ever experimental observations of a connection between chaos theory and quantum entanglement. She is also the founder of Laurier University’s Research Centre for Women in Science (WinS).
The break-out session on career paths in physics

Sunday consisted of multiple breakout sessions. Attendees chose three of the twelve to attend. The topics included: science policy, undergraduate research, APS Step-Up for Women, Resilience, What is graduate school like?, career paths in physics, work/life balance, mental health, professional skills/communication/negotiation, solidarity/mentorship/sponsorship/allies, brilliance, and  impostor syndrome.

Overall, the conference was a positive experience for the undergraduates who attended in its ability to inform students of some of the gendered issues in the physics world and spread awareness of the resources that exist for dealing with those issues, to expose students to exciting research in various areas of physics, and to help students find resources for developing professional skills to give them the tools they need to excel.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The 2017 JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year, Mr. Jon Goetz

We had the pleasure of welcoming Mr. Jon Goetz, the 2017 James Madison University High School Physics Teacher of the Year, to James Madison University.  While he was here, we are able to talk a bit about his background, how he came to teach high school physics, and some advice he has to students, both the general populace and to prospective educators.

Mr. Jon Goetz (left) with Dr. Chris Hughes
Mr. Goetz started his undergraduate career studying aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He then continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied mechanical engineering.  Despite this, he recognized that his passions were more in education, and after a brief stint in industry, went back to pursue a degree an education from Harvard University.  In 1994, Mr. Goetz began teaching physics and mathematics at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, where he has remained to the present day. 

When it comes to teaching, Mr. Goetz states that he enjoys most the amount of creativity involved with the job, saying that, “teaching is half art, half skill…constructing pathways towards understanding.”  He describes his experience as a mix of showmanship and passion, and a job where he never sits looking at the clock.  Ultimately, he says his goal is for his students to enjoy the class, and he certainly has different ways of achieving this.  Mr. Goetz believes that learning comes from engagement, and has created a series of physics games to bring in excitement into the classroom.  Among them is a zipline challenge, where students had to design a zipline to transport objects into a bucket.  In addition, he provides students with many different real-world examples of physics so that they can see where the concepts they learn apply, be they in-class demonstrations of throwing eggs at sheets to visualize waves or videos of cats flipping around due to torque.  Mr. Goetz believes that the way in which he teaches is as important as what he teaches, and it certainly shows.

To potential educators, Mr. Goetz says that the role of a teacher has to be motivated from somewhere inside.  He also says that, while it is hard work, the job can be very rewarding, especially as the energy he puts into the job is always worthwhile.  For all students, Mr. Goetz advises to not be afraid to try something, and also to not be afraid to change their minds.  He sees that the world has much to offer, and to not see what is out there would be a disservice to oneself. 

Thank you again, Mr. Goetz!

Monday, November 13, 2017


Please check out our titles for this year's SMP:

13/Jan/18: Dr. Costel Constantin “How Can We use Waves in Nanotechnology to Understand Crystal Structures”

20/Jan/18: Prof. Chris Hughes “Waves as Art: Music and Light”

27/Jan/18: Dr. Adriana Banu A Microwave Power Source, An Accelerator Waveguide and Very Energetic Electromagnetic Waves: a case study research in experimental nuclear astrophysics at the Madison Accelerator Laboratory”

03/Feb/18: Dr. Geary Albright “Astronomy Across the Electromagnetic Spectrum”

10/Feb/18: Keigo Fukumura “What is Gravitational Wave and Why Do We Care”

Please ask your friends with high school kids to come and register as soon as possible. More details can be found at

Monday, October 30, 2017

Demystifying The Expert: Dr. Geary Albright

In order to introduce the public to science in a combination of comedy and education, Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Klebert Feitosa host the event Demystifying the Expert. The program brings together a guest speaker, who is an expert in their field of science, and comedians from JMU’s New & Improv’d, who attempt to “demystify the expert.” Questions, games, trivia and improvised skits all contribute to the fun as the audience learns about the expert’s work. Examples of previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The first Demystifying the Expert of the Fall Semester 2017 was held on October 5th at Taylor Down Under. The professor for this session was Dr. Geary Albright, an astrophysicist who has been at JMU since 2007, and received the title of General Education Professor of the Year for 2017.

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were Naomi Stuart, a sophomore English major, Alex Jacobs, a senior Communications and Philosophy double major, and Noah Etka a sophomore computer science major.

First, the comedians played twenty questions to try to figure out what it is that Dr. Albright studies. They quickly determined, based on a random guess from Noah Etka, that Dr. Albright did something in the realm of astronomy. Dr. Albright explained how he studies binary star systems and talked about Medusa’s eye, which is a star in the night sky that dims and brightens regularly, which modern astronomers have determined is because it is an eclipsing binary star system.

After this game was “In the News,” where the comedians guessed missing words in several news headlines related to Dr. Albright’s field of research.

The jargon game came next, which asks the comedians to try to guess the meaning of specific acronyms or jargon vocabulary from the expert’s knowledge.  They were asked to define terms such as white dwarf and red giant. The comedians did a surprisingly good job at knowing that these were terms from stars’ life cycles, though there was some debate on which part of the life cycle each of these terms came from.

During the “Two Truths and Lie” game, the comedians learned about Dr. Albright’s life outside of astrophysics.  In this section, the comedians and audience learned that Dr. Albright plays the banjo. The comedians were delighted to find out that he carries around small fish that, when put in the palm of your hand, will do something such as curl into itself, or lay flat, and based on the action of the fish it tells you the future. There is a list on the package of the fish of the actions it can make and its meanings.

Finally, the night was capped off in the “Scenes from a Hat” game, in which the comedians take out quotes from a bag and read them out loud, integrating them into their skit about a day in Dr.
Albright’s classroom. For this round, Noah portrayed Dr. Albright and Alex and Naomi were supposed to be his students coming to his office for help.

The night proved to be a success. It was entertaining, drew many laughs from the audience, but was also educational and informative.