Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Congratulations to our Physics and Astronomy Class of 2017

Our graduates should be proud of everything they have accomplished and will accomplish in the next chapter of their lives.  The physics degree is one of the most challenging one, but these kids hung on to their dreams, and made them true.   They survived and had tons of fun in the meantime, and their finish line is crossed now.  Their degree may be their latest and greatest accomplishment, but it is also the grand opening of the door to a new beginning.  

It rained with cats and dogs, but look at these smiles, who couldn't care less about those drench-y drops:

Smack in the middle you should spy our newly minted department head: Chris Hughes.  Dr. Hughes is of course well-known to the JMU community, and was selected for this new leadership role from a national pool of applicants.  During his interview, he shared a compelling vision for the future of physics and astronomy on campus, including strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse community of faculty and students in the department, advancing the department’s role in producing physical science teachers to address pervasive shortages in the state, pursuing opportunities for collaborative engagements through the new Madison Accelerator Lab, and continuing to grow the department’s national reputation for innovation in the integration of teaching and research. 
It feels like we all graduated this year, to a new era we are certainly looking forward to.

We take this opportunity to let you know about a grand series of awards that we celebrated last month, even if it includes some of our majors who have not walked the stage this year, but will do so next year (a.k.a, juniors).  Maybe this announcement is in fact not too late, as some of these listings will explain the galore of colors hanging on top of the purple on many of our graduates: 

     Catherine A. Witherspoon
     Nicholas J. Duncan
     Ian C. Davenport
Justin D. Leas
Zachary J. Marinelli

Margaret C. Blackman
    Don Chodrow Scholarship
       Nicholas J. Duncan
       Rodney T. Hodges
       Rodney T. Hodges
       Kaitlyn D. Porter
Physics and Astronomy SYMPOSIUM AWARDS
1st Place – Zachary P. Schuhmacher
2nd Place – Ian C. Davenport
3rd Place – Jason M. Ferguson
     Maxwell M. Cannon
     Ian C. Davenport
     Nicholas J. Duncan
     Justin D. Leas
     Joseph J. LoPreto
     Aaron C. Midkiff
     Zachary J. Marinelli

We congratulate all and every single one of you, Class of 2017!  Keep us posted with all of your next steps.  We are always happy to hear from you. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

JMU Physics Shines at the APS March Meeting

The national APS March Meeting was held in New Orleans, LA from March 13th-17th this year. A total of nine presentations during the conference were listed with authors and/or presenters from the James Madison Universty Department of Physics & Astronomy.

JMU physics senior Jacob Parkhouse was one of the listed authors for a talk titled “Impact and interaction of granular streams in waters.”   

JMU physics professor Dr. Costel Constantin was included as an author alongside chemistry professor Dr. Ashleigh Baber and chemistry student Will Andahazy for the poster, “Surface Plasmon Peak Resonance Discovered in Sulfuric Acid Treated PEDOT-PSS Conductive Polymers.”   

JMU physics professor Dr. Marcelo Dias presented his talk on “Cracking Sheets into Shapes: Linear actuators from non-linear crack behavior.”
JMU physics professors Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Klebert Feitosa presented their poster on the Demystifying the Expert events they hold here at JMU. The Demystifying the Expert events have been featured on this blog as well and can be read about here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Dr. Feitosa also gave a talk, “Stress distributions and bubble rearrangements in a compressed bubble raft,” with physics student Nicholas Albright also listed as an author.
Junior physics major Yvonne Kinsella presents her poster at the APS March Meeting.

Two students from the JMU Department of Physics and Astronomy also presented at the March Meeting.  On Wednesday afternoon, junior Yvonne Kinsella presented her poster “Adhesion of Au Thin Films on PMMA and Other Substrates.”  The following morning, senior Nick Sipes presented his talk “Selective Electroless Nickel Plating on PMMA using Chloroform Pre-Treatment.”   Both students work in Dr. Chris Hughes’ lab, so both presentations included him as an author. Additionally, the former presentation included Dr. Harry Hu for his help on instrumentation.

With so many presentations at the March Meeting with JMU authors, it is clear that the Department of Physics and Astronomy is not only doing great research but is doing a great job at getting students involved in research opportunities, as well as giving them opportunities to present at professional conferences.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Fun-Filled Finale (until next year!)

Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Feitosa host the event Demystifying the Expert to introduce the public to science in a combination of comedy and education. The program involves an “expert” in some field of science, and a few local comedians who get to “demystify the expert”. The demystification involves questions, games, trivia and improvised skits, all of which provide the audience with plenty of laughs. Examples of previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

The second Demystifying the Expert of 2017, and final show for the 2016-2017 school year, saw JMU comedy group “New and Improv’d” members Shelby Imes, Alex Jacobs, and Knick McKay try to demystify Professor Ilarion Melnikov. For those who do not know, Dr. Melnikov is a member of JMU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The event started off with a game of 20 questions, with the comedians asking the expert yes/no questions.  Things got a little off-track as the comedians started fighting for “points” for being answered “yes”, leading to question unrelated to Melnikov’s research such as, “Do you empathize with the chemistry-haters in the crowd?” Alex argued that only getting points for an answer of “yes” seemed like a flawed scoring system, but that may be because Shelby held the lead throughout the game of 20 questions.

The members of New and Improv’d figured it out in the end, however, deducing that Dr. Melnikov is in fact a theoretical physicist who studies string theory. The hosts, Dr. Constantin and Dr. Feitosa, asked Melnikov to give a short elevator speech about his work. Dr. Melnikov explained that, “It’s very simple”, as he went from questioning what makes up quarks and leptons to how gravity works. Melnikov explained how string theory works for gravity, and introduces the particle “gravitons”. Alex and Knick, attempting to simplify string theory, exclaimed, “So the electrons, gravitons, Megatrons, megaladons, Pok√©mons, Digimons, Bakugons, are all held together by one rope.” Of course, this wasn’t QUITE right, but the one minute marker for the elevator speech was already a distant memory by this point and it was time for the next game.

The second game, The StringNews, saw the comedians attempting to fill in the blanks to complete article titles related to Dr. Melnikov’s area of study. The first headline tripped up the members of New and Improv’d, who thought “The Curious Case of the Quantum Theory of [Blank]” was completed with the word “Strings”. In fact, the missing word was “Humor”, as the article compared the way people interpret jokes to the process of quantum superposition.

The second article title, “The Strange [Blank Blank] of String Theory”, was finished by inserting the words, “Second Life”. Attempting to guess what the article was about, Knick claimed, “String theory is two-timing on his family, has a second family, a second life.” The audience had a good chuckle at this, and laughed even more when Melnikov replied to Knick, “That’s not too far off.” The article, it turned out, was about string theory in the field of math, as well as numerous branches of physics like condensed matter and quantum gravity.

The third game of the night was the jargon game. Shelby, Alex, and Knick all had very different opinions of what the first acronym, SUSY, meant. Alex quickly SUSY had to stand for Susie Q. Shelby tried breaking the acronym down into two parts, "Sus" and "Y". She explained “Sus” was slang for lame, but Alex pointed out it was actually short for the word “suspect”. Shelby decided to focus instead on the “Y” at this point, which she believed clearly stood for “Why can’t we figure this out?” Knick took a different approach, believing SUSY “is the name of the first quantum string; they put a collar on it, took it for walks, fed it, etc., and after 13 long, happy years they euthanized it.” In a surprise twist, SUSY actually stands for “supersymmetry”, which deals with the partners of different particles (for example, quarks have super partners called squarks).

The next acronym led to some confusion, and much laughter, as the comedians thought the acronym “LST” was “LSD”. After that was cleared up, the members of New and Improv’d quickly managed to get to the answer, Little String Theory, which Dr. Melnikov explained to the audience briefly.

The following game, “2 Truths and a Lie”, helped the comedians and the audience to learn about more about expert outside of his work. In the first round, Shelby decided it must be true that Dr. Melnikov plays electric guitar and had his own Punk/Rock band named Culture of Blame, because electric guitars obviously go with string theory. The members of New and Improv’d correctly deduced that Melnikov never met President George H. W. Bush, and then immediately refocused on his punk/rock band. Dr. Melnikov explained the name of the band came from when he and his bandmate Matt lived with some guy who couldn’t wash dishes. When they confronted him, he said “I’m sick of this culture of blame in this house!” It sounded like a great band name, so they went with it. Dr. Melnikov even sang part of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” for the audience, his favorite cover song from his time in the band.

The second round saw the comedians miss their mark, claiming that Ilarion Melnikov never made the pedestrian journey of sixty stadia from Delphi to the Corycian Cave. They quickly figured out the real lie, though, was the claim that Dr. Melnikov was interviewed on a German TV show about string theory. Melnikov explained that there are many string theorists in Germany, so there was no way he would have been interviewed.

The coup de grace of the even was the skit at the end. Using movie lines, book lines, and quotes from famous physicists, as well as their own creativity, the comedians of New and Improv’d had to act out a day in Dr. Melnikov’s lab. Things got off to an odd start, as Shelby attempted to drop out of Melnikov’s class (while Alex portrayed Dr. Melnikov), and instead ended up “assisting him with the gravitrons”. This involved hand gestures similar to kneading, and the occasional exclamation that, “The gravitons are escaping!”

The comedians had some excellent timing on their lines from the hat, such as Shelby trying to calm down Alex and Knick’s heated debate by proclaiming, “The universe doesn’t care what makes theoretical physicists happy.” The group’s odd day in the offense finally reached its climax with Alex and Knick again bumping heads, as Alex (portraying Melnikov) shouted that there is no Nirvana in string theory. Knick countered that Alex couldn’t know that, and Alex was forced to agree. As a result of this, Knick claimed the office as his own and ran away to live happily with Shelby.

In response to all of this, Dr. Melnikov could only say that it looked exactly like a normal day at the office.

Overall, this was a great, fun-filled finale to the 2016-2017 school year’s Demystifying the Expert event. As a quick reminder, we are working on editing the audio for all shows of this year to have them soon on Soundcloud.