Monday, February 01, 2016

That's no moon!

Word has spread around about a new object circling the Sun, and the discussion has begun about whether or not this "Planet Nine" is even a planet at all.

While NASA has said that the 'planet-ness' of Planet Nine is still a theory, many people are already speculating the object's composition, both atmospheric and mineral.  However, this has proven difficult due to the object's distance from the Sun and background radiation from the Milky Way.

What we do know about the object, as posted by Science Magazine, is that the object has around the mass of 10 Earths, it has an orbit of 15,000 years, and there's only a 0.007% chance that these observations are just coincidentally the six previously known objects that orbit around Neptune.

As more information surfaces, this is sure to be a thrilling debate and discovery in the astronomical community!

More importantly, how does Pluto feel about all of this?

Hear Planetarium Director, Shanil Virani's take on the discovery announcement of Planet Nine as part of his #OurIslandUniverse series on NPR!

JMU goes to CUWiP 2016!

On January 15th, Olivia Cypull, Devin Buennemeyer, Tara Jobin, Gillian Schuneman, and Yvonne Kinsella represented JMU at this year's Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics.  The meeting was hosted by the APS, Old Dominion University, and Jefferson Lab in Norfolk, Virginia.  They were joined by over 200 other academic women

The conference is not only important in encouraging more women to participate in STEM fields, but to also open up great opportunities for those who attend.  These opportunities include, but are not limited to, meeting colleagues in similar academic field, discovering research opportunities outside of one's home university, and even learning about appealing graduate programs.  The conference also hosted a plethora of different workshops that focused on the different obstacles, opportunities, and communities for women in the sciences.

Olivia Cypull, pictured above, presented her research with Dr. Fietosa regarding the study of soft matter physics.  Among the 40 posters presented, Olivia's poster presentation was awarded as the best in show, and was praised for its conciseness, depth of information, and interesting topic material.

Congratulations to all of the women who presented and represented James Madison University STEM!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

JMU's presence at the 227th American Astronomical Society Meeting

The Winter meeting of this year's American Astronomical Society (AAS), the 227th overall,  held last week in Kissimmee, Fl, witnessed the most significant JMU presence yet, featuring five members of our Physics and Astronomy Department:  two of our undergraduate students, Catherine Witherspoon and Jason Ferguson, along with Anca Constantin, Keigo Fukumura, and Sean Scully (faculty).

The winter AAS meetings are the largest gathering of american astronomers anywhere, and the AAS refers to it as the "superbowl of astronomy."  Besides multiple and parallel science sessions, as well as workshops and splinter meetings, at these meetings official AAS business happens, prizes are awarded, job interviews are held, textbooks and telescope equipment are presented and purchased, collaborations are forged, and some of the biggest announcements in astronomy are made.

Basically, the pulse of the Universe is taken, one talk or poster at a time.
Work presented by JMU affiliates and their collaborators include new results on:

1. Searching for signatures of black hole accretion in centers of
bulgeless galaxies using new data from the Large Binocular Telescope

2. Understanding the potential links between the water megamaser
activity and nuclear galactic obscuration using data from the
Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer

3. The nature of the ultraviolet and X-ray absorbers present around
supermassive black holes, via novel modeling of the global magnetic
fields originating from the black hole accretion disk 

4. The mid and far infrared luminosity density and the Gamma-ray
opacity of the universe

Catherine and Jason's work has been supported by the 4-VA Collaborative at James Madison University, University of Virginia/NRAO, and George Mason University.  

Catherine's thoughts on her first AAS meeting: one of the best parts of the meeting was the Annie Jump Cannon Award talk about the dynamics of planets, stars, and black holes in triple systems. The speaker made most of her work understandable even to the lowly undergraduate, which was nice because there were some talks where I barely understood more than a few sentences at a time. However, the presentations opened up my eyes to entirely new areas of astronomy that I didn’t know existed and the other astronomers were always willing to chat with me about their research as well as my own research. This AAS meeting was an amazing experience that I hope to have again in the future.

And here are Jason's: an inspirational experience. I had the chance to meet many important astrophysicists from all over the USA including from the NRAO and NASA. I learned about what has been discovered this past year by the astronomical community as well as what is in store for the future. I presented my own research at a poster session during the conference, and I was able to do invaluable networking with other conference goers. There was an undergraduate session where I acquired information about various graduate school programs and internship opportunities. I am so excited for my next AAS!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Nuclear Science Summer School for Undergraduate Students at Michigan State University

Michigan State University will be hosting the 1st Nuclear Science Summer School (NS3) during the period of May 16-21, 2016!

NS3 is a summer school for undergraduate students that aims to introduce the participants to the field of nuclear science. NS3 will offer lectures and hands'on activities covering selected nuclear science topics and providing an overview of the field. The school activities will take place at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) and will include lectures by local and visiting researchers, nuclear physics labs, a tour of the facility, discussions with graduate students and faculty, and social events. 

Who can apply
NS3 invites applications from Physics Majors in US institutions. Prerequisites are Calculus, Introductory Physics I (Mechanics and Waves), Introductory Physics II (Electricity, Magnetism, Optics) and preferably Modern Physics. Students should be at their second or third year of study at the time of application. Preference will be given to students who have limited opportunity at their home institution to attend a Nuclear Physics Class or Nuclear Physics Lab class. Applications from women and students from underrepresented minorities are strongly encouraged. 

Participation in NS3 is funded by the National Science Foundation and NSCL. Local expenses (accommodation and meals) will be provided. In addition, participants will receive up to $500 (actual cost) towards their travel to and from MSU.

Application Deadline: February 15, 2016 

For more information please visit the NS3 website: or contact the NS3 organizers at:

Monday, December 28, 2015

New paper .......

On November 27, 2015 the World Journal of Condensed Matter Physics published a new article: "A.L. Gordon, Y. Schwab, B.N. Lang, G.P. Gearhart, T.R. Jobin, J.M. Kaczmar, Z.J. Marinelli, H.S. Mann, B.C. Utter, and G. Scarel, Decoupling the electrical and entropic contributions to energy transfer from infrared radiation to a power generator”.  World J. Cond. Matter Phys. vol. 5, 301-318 (2015)".  Aidan Gordon, Tara. Jobin, Justin Kaczmar, and Zach Marinelli currently are undergraduate students at JMU.  Yosyp Schwab, Brian Lang, Graham Gearhart, and Harkirat Mann graduated in May 2015.  Aidan and Yosyp contributed to modeling.  Brian, Graham, Tara, Justin and Zach performed countless data analysis.  Harkirat, Brian and Zach played a key role in setting up the experiments ......   The figure below shows one of the most significant finding: when infrared radiation hits a thermoelectric device coverd with colored tape the open voltage produced by the device is twice that generated without tape!  Such effect is absent when the thermoelectric device is activated with energy transferred from a resistor through Joule heating.  This finding supports the claim in the title!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Photo Gallery Review

Let us look back on 2015 by marking just a few of the moments that stood out to us.

JMU students at the 10th annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Duke U.

As well as the APS conference in San Antonio, TX.

Planetarium Director Shanil Virani and a few of our students teaching Staunton kids rocket science!

The lounge gets a much needed and appreciated makeover.

JMU students at CAA at Drexel in sunny Philadelphia.

A proper "send-off" for our former lab manager Art Fovargue.

Congratulations to the Class of 2015!  You all made it!

The Niculescu team lighting things up at JLab.

Our faculty going into the new academic year.
We also welcome Jacob Brown and Dr. Melnikov to the team!

Our PR is simply electrifying!

The esteemed Dr. Mather comes by for a visit!

Thanks to the help of many, a new map is hung depicting where our students have been!

And finally, the 2015 Holiday Video!

Thanks to everyone for a great year and here's to an even better one in 2016!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

'Tis the Season: Faculty Awards

We are celebrating the end of the semester with two new acknowledgements of our faculty's hard work, vision, and talent: 

Image result for chris hughes jmu
 Prof. Chris Hughes has been selected to receive The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award (OFA), which is the Commonwealth's highest honor for faculty at Virginia's public and private colleges and universities. This is a terrific recognition of his work and a testimony to the excellent work in physics and the encouragement and support of his colleagues. 

JMU's College of Science and Math Distinguished Teacher Award, which was established in 1981 to honor one faculty member annually for exemplary teaching, goes this year to Prof. Scott Paulson.  Scott is also the Cluster 3 (The Natural World) Coordinator for the General Education program at JMU.

 Two much deserved recognitions.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Showing Off Our Students

As a Department, we often talk about all of the places that we've sent our students to.  Whether its recruiting new students, applying for research grants, or just letting the current student body know about the opportunities and connections available to them, there always a need to convey this information.

However, instead of telling people where JMU Physics & Astronomy has been, why don't we show it?

Well now you can!  Hanging in the middle hallway of the Physics floor is a map depicting where our students have gone for Graduate School, participated in REU's & internships, and presented their research at conferences.

This piece allows people to know about the geographic and scholastic opportunities of our department without even talking to a professor, as well as inform students on otherwise unknown REU opportunities, such as MAX IV Lab or Embry-Riddle.

If you know a student (past or present) whose grad school, research experience, or conference is not listed on here, please let the current Student Physics Blogger know so they can add them!  We want this project to be one that not only grows with the department, but also catalogs the achievements of past students.

Many thanks to everyone who helped make this project possible, including Codie Lewis, Adam Miner, Josiah Lapolla, Premal Patel, Natali Bushamani, Evan Meekins, and Dr. Adriana Banu.