Saturday, December 08, 2018

Demystifying the Expert: Dr. Kevin Caran



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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

On November 8, 2018, Drs. Constantin and Feitosa welcomed our final guest for the 2018 term, Dr. Kevin Caran from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as our guest expert for the evening.  He received his Bachelors Degree of Science in Chemistry from Cologne University and his doctoral degree from Emory University.  After a post-doctoral position at Georgia Tech, Dr. Caran came to JMU, where he has remained since 2003.

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Abigail, a sophomore theatre major whose fish acts like a dog, Kat, a freshman SMAD major who jumps out of planes for fun, and Noah Etka, a junior ISAT major who spends most of his time explaining to potential employers what ISAT is.  

The night kicked off with the twenty questions game, where each comedian took turns asking Dr. Caran yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  Our comedians were scattered in their questions, unable to deduce much from Dr. Caran beyond how he didn’t study plants, animals, or humans.  However, near the end, our comedians were able to deduce that Dr. Caran studied chemistry, and from there were quickly able to discover that he was an organic chemist.



As he explained with open ended questions, there are many different fields of chemistry, from organic to analytical to materials, and he also explained that organic chemistry studies molecules based off of the element carbon.  In particular, he was involved with a process called organic synthesis, or the creation of new molecules that have never been created before. 

In his elevator pitch, where he gives a brief overview of his work and how it relates to the greater world, Dr. Caran explained that the types of molecules that he is interested in creating are amphiphiles, which have unique antibacterial properties that are able to kill bacteria in ways that most antibiotics currently do not.  Unlike most orally taken antibiotics, the molecules that Dr. Caran tries to manufacture are polymers, long carbon chains that form the basis for, in his study, plastics.  These plastics are potential key players in the fight against antibiotic resistance, as he says that if we are able to mass produce these plastics efficiently, we can create materials that bacteria cannot grow on at far lower costs.  The current regime utilizes many rarer metals like silver and costly to manufacture plastics, so if these materials are cost effective, they may be more accessible worldwide.

The second game was the headliner game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Caran’s research.  Here, our comedians were very quick to guess the correct words, and the articles in question mainly talked about antibacterial properties, from the efficacy of current antibiotic medications to the solutions through antimicrobial plastics and shapes of these molecules that give them these resistant properties.  Dr. Caran also mentioned that the place where cheap antimicrobial implements were most needed was in the medical industry, where cross-contamination is a very dangerous scenario, especially if so-called ‘super-bugs’ with antibacterial resistances were to be spread. 

The comedians and Dr. Caran briefly discussed what a day in the lab looked like, with Dr. Caran also mentioning his collaborations with the biology and physics departments at JMU, including with our own host, Dr. Feitosa, in the manufacturing of molecules.  This came into play when he explained that his work involved taking current molecules, analyzing their shapes and trying to see how to edit them to produce different qualities that we may want, including antimicrobial properties.  With biology, he is able to test their efficacy, and with physics, he is able to see just how these molecules can be created more effectively.

Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms or terms mean in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians learned about colloids, or systems where different items are mixed very finely, and how it is used in Dr. Caran’s work to see how molecules hold on to each other.  We also learned some of acronyms used, such as MIC, or the minimum inhibition concentration, or the lowest concentration of wasted materials used to produce Dr. Caran’s molecules, and his favorite acronym to say, SOPAR, or the sum of pi bonds and rings in a molecule.

Finally, the audience got to learn more about Dr. Caran outside of his life as a chemist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that Dr. Caran’s father had a family dog, Jilli, who was able to play poker to great effect!  And, we also learned that Dr. Caran not only plays guitar, but also writes songs about chemistry to help his students remember the material, such as his ‘Alkane Song,’ which we got to hear in its entirety!

The final planned event of the night was the improvised skit with quotes from chemistry related pop culture like Back to the Future and Medicine Man.  We had the typical student-professor scenario where students in Dr. Caran’s lab are trying to clarify some point in their work, but eventually goes into a sing-off between the students and Dr. Caran.  As an unexpected encore presentation, Dr. Caran sang his song ‘Fishy, Oh Fishy,” for us, and the comedians and even some of the audience members joined in during the chorus!

We’d like to thank you all for a great fall showcase of Demystifying the Expert, and we hope to see you at our next show in the spring on Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 7:00 PM at Taylor Down Under! 





 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The 2018 JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year, Mr. Nicholas Leonard


Mr. Nicholas Leonard (right) with Dr. Christopher Hughes

        On November 6, 2018, we had the honor of hosting the 2018 JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year, Mr. Nicholas Leonard, for a day to tour our department and talk about his experience as  a physics educator with faculty, students, and even alumni!

         Mr. Leonard received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2002.   Before becoming a teacher, he worked at a semiconductor processing facility.  After leaving the company, he spent about a year looking for a job before he accepted a teaching position for chemistry at Highland Springs High School in Henrico County, Virginia.  After a year there, he moved to Monacan High School in Chesterfield County, where he has remained to this day.  Like at Highland Springs, he began with chemistry and then in 2010 he began to teach physics classes as well.  As of current, Mr. Leonard now primarily teaches physics. 



         Mr. Leonard talked with us about some of what he’s learned as an educator, from how physics and chemistry education is different to how he tries to get students to understand material and also things that can be frustrating as a teacher.  While Mr. Leonard first started teaching physics out of some necessity, he cites his primary reason for now teaching only physics classes being that it’s much easier, and more fun, to actually demonstrate to students what he wants them to investigate.  He also mentions that, when students have trouble understanding particular concepts, it’s useful to help them identify relationships and patterns with what’s going on, and making use of visual aids is often a very useful tool for these purposes.  His largest pet peeve with the job is just when students won’t ask him questions.  Mr. Leonard says that questions are helpful in identifying where he can improve as an educator, and also where he may need to revisit a concept or slow down the pace so that everyone understands clearly what’s going on in class.

          We also got to hear a bit of how Mr. Leonard tries to structure his class, and key to this is his core philosophy behind teaching.  As Mr. Leonard says himself, “I want to teach so I’m having fun!” and this entails a lot of interaction with the students, both in projects and in class structure.  A typical class utilizes a small demo as the beginning of discussion, and students are encouraged to discuss and ask questions about what’s going on with the demonstration.    There may be some smaller notes or formulae to copy down, but most of what happens is really a conversation about the subject at hand, whether it be projectile motion or energy.  When it comes to projects, Mr. Leonard tries to engage students with projects that focus on applying the skills learned in the classroom with design and construction principles in engineering.  Whether it be designing a cart so that it travels a certain distance or achieves a certain distance within a certain time, to having students create towers out of popsicle sticks and marshmallow launchers to lay siege to said towers, students are expected to work collaboratively both among themselves and with Mr. Leonard to apply the knowledge they’ve gained from class.

Mr. Leonard with Jack Clabough (left)
          Thank you again to Mr. Leonard, it was a great pleasure to have such as dedicated and engaged teacher share with us his experiences as an educator, and a thank you as well to Jack Clabough, the freshman physics major who nominated him!


Monday, October 29, 2018

Demystifying the Expert: Dr. Mark Gabriele


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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

            On October 11, 2018, the first Demystifying the Expert event for the 2018-2019 term welcomed Dr. Mark Gabriele from the Department of Biology as our guest expert for the evening.  Dr. Gabriele has been faculty at JMU since 2001, after research appointments and received his doctoral degree from Wake Forest University, but he is also an alumnus from JMU!

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Michael Mathis and Ethan Schultze, both junior media arts and design majors, and Caroline Buddendorf, a sophomore theatre major.  Right before the inaugural twenty questions game, Dr. Gabriele asked each comedian what their favorite genre of music or band was, which would later clue in to how Dr. Gabriele entered his field and in particular what he studies.  Michael mentioned his Spotify recommendations being primarily hip hop, Ethan had classic rock and Queen being his favorite band, and Caroline named Gorillaz as her current most listened to group.

            After Dr. Gabriele’s questions, the comedians had their turn to inquire in the twenty questions game.   Each comedian took turns asking Dr. Gabriele yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  Our comedians started off strong in narrowing his field down to something in biology, but then spent much of their time trying to figure out what exactly he did related to animals.  After twenty questions, Dr. Gabriel revealed that he, while he does use animals in the lab in his work, is a developmental neuroscientist with a focus in sensory integration, or the circuits within our brain that allow us to use our senses.


            As he explained with open ended questions, he does much work in the studies of audition, how we hear, and his love for music is what kept him in developmental neuroscience for the past two decades.  He also revealed his favorite band, The War on Drugs.  He shared his most fascinating discovery from his work, where he had seen that the brain had already developed the neural networks for hearing and vision before the ears and eyes were fully formed. 

            In his elevator pitch, where he gives a brief overview of his work and how it relates to the greater world, he mentioned how his work applies to many different disorders, from things as isolated in cause like tinnitus to much more complex disorders like autism-spectrum disorder.  And, in addition, he talked about how his work would be able to help improve therapy parameters for patients, but also that his work was trying to find a way to change the neural networks in order to alleviate these disorders.

            The second game was the fill-in-the-blank game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Gabriele’s research.  Both related to the maps within the brain that transmit sensory data, but while the first mentioned how some people’s brains may have more connections between their cortices, the second article talked about how maps that never had a need to develop (as in the case of a person born without hands) were not only still developed, but eventually used in the event of ‘regaining’ sensory capabilities, as with a transplant procedure.

            Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms or terms mean in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians learned about the microglia, small cells in the brain that support neurons and are responsible for pruning brain connections into the proper maps.

            Finally, the audience got to learn more about Dr. Gabriele outside of his life as a biologist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that Dr. Gabriele, during his undergraduate career at JMU, was an Olympic-level swimmer, having his personal record for the butterfly stroke still standing at Godwin Hall.  In addition, we learned that he learned to balance his busy life with meditation, with most sessions lasting thirty minutes and the most public being in an airport.

            The final event of the night was the skit in which the comedians played out an imagined day in the life of the office hours of Dr. Gabriele.  With some mandatory quotes relating to biology and neuroscience from pop culture favorites like Gattaca, our comedians came up with a scenario where a humble student approaches Dr. Gabriele about a test question, but quickly delving into an exploration of the deeper meanings of life, friendship, and what is real and what is made real by the imagination.  From ‘Dr. Gabriele’ hinting that he may be a multi-dimensional being to judging a man, or imaginary man, by his outfit, it certainly was a wild ride!


            We look forward to seeing you at the second Demystifying the Expert event for the fall semester at 7:00 PM on Thursday, November 8, 2018, at Taylor Down Under, the first floor of Madison Union!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

 

The 2018 WINNER of the JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award 

We are proud to announce that 

the 2018 recipient of the JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award

 is

Mr. Nicholas Leonard

Science Teacher at Monacan High School, North Chesterfield, VA

The student who has nominated Mr. Leonard is James Clabough, currently a physics major at JMU. Here is James in his own words describing the exceptional attributes of his nominee:

“Mr. Leonard has a wonderful way of making physics fun and entertaining, whether that be learning the forces of projectile motion through marshmallow catapults to learning about centripetal forces by using a flying squealing pig. Mr. Leonard always knows how to explain things well and relate key concepts involved around physics back to everyday life by preforming experiments in the matter or watching relevant viral videos to the concept he is trying to explain. All in all Mr. Leonard is unparalleled in how he teaches the subject and would be the best candidate for the honor of JMU High School Teacher of the Year.”

Mr. Leonard will be visiting us at JMU on Tuesday, November 6th (Election Day) when he will meet with faculty and students, see our facilities, and receive a gift in recognition of the award. Feel free to join us for the award ceremony of Mr. Leonard at 2 pm in Room 2212 (Phys. Chem. Bldg.)!

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Demystifying the Expert: Dr. Barbara Reisner


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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

            On March 29, 2018, the final Demystifying the Expert event for the spring semester welcomed Dr. Barbara Reisner from the Department of Chemistry as our expert for the evening, and in a change of scene, we had the great pleasure of hearing her at Pale Fire Tap Room in Downtown Harrisonburg.  The podcast for her show can be found here!

            The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Alex Jacobs, a senior communications and philosophy major, Marian Duffy, a sophomore art-or-something-related major, and Drew Holt, a junior marketing major.

            The first game that the comedians played in order to determine what the expert studied was twenty questions. Each comedian took turns asking Dr. Reisner yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  After a few questions, our comedians discovered that Dr. Reisner works in the chemistry department, and more specifically, inorganic and materials chemistry.

            With some more open-ended questions, Dr. Reisner explained some of the tools and tricks of her trade, including a brief description of what makes physical chemistry different from other types of chemistry.

            The second game was the fill-in-the-blank game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Reisner’s research.

            These articles might not have seemed like they had much in common, with topics about superconductivity, meteorites, virus imaging, and greenhouse gases, but Dr. Reisner explained how each related to her work in the nano-scale.  In particular, one aspect of the work she does allows us to manufacture superconducting materials, and another allows us to essentially trap greenhouse gases in another type of material.

            Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms mean or terms that are used in daily life but have a different meaning in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians did well in guessing the more technical meanings of the Dr. Reisner’s jargon, with some words being clarified for those who had taken chemistry courses before.  Among the words were bomb, oven, and glove-box, with more foreign words like zeolites and diffraction. 

            Finally, the audience got to learn more about the Dr. Reisner outside of his life as a chemist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that, Dr. Reisner has kept very active her entire life, from participating in numerous sports in her high school career to singing in numerous choirs throughout her life to being an active advocate for the development of a new high school in Harrisonburg.  While she might not have beers created by herself at the Tap Room, one of her party tricks for parties involves spelling with the periodic table, which she very quickly demonstrated with her own name and those of our hosts.

            The final event of the night was the skit in which the comedians played out an imagined day in the life of the research lab of Dr. Reisner with some mandatory quotes relating to chemistry and its reactions from movies and books like The Martian. The skit involved much work with small and dangerously powerful reactions to clean our ecosystem of greenhouse gases, some burgeoning romance between the lab assistants and Dr. Reisner quickly flipping from admonishment to advocacy, and a deep questioning of the intrinsic nature of the field, and of life itself.  It was a final recap of all that the audience, and the comedians, had learned in a brief but fantastical way.

            We look forward to seeing you at the first Demystifying the Expert event for the fall semester at 7:00 PM on Thursday, October 11, 2018, in our usual location at Taylor Down Under, the first floor of Madison Union!





Thursday, August 16, 2018

International Conference On Quark Hadron Duality Coming to JMU

Conference Poster
This September, experts on quark hadron duality from around the world will come to Harrisonburg to discuss this aspect of nuclear physics that makes use of the new 12 GeV capabilities of the Jefferson National Lab (JLab) in Newport News, VA. Professor Ioana Niculescu of JMU has been a leader in this research at JLab and is part of the five-person organizing team bringing the conference to JMU.
The program will being on Sunday afternoon, September 23, 2018 with a session on "Duality in Spectroscopy" followed by a welcoming reception. Talks will continue on Monday, September 24 and Tuesday, September 25 probing deeper and deeper into this field. The sessions will be held in the Montpelier Room in the East Campus Dining Hall near the Physics and Chemistry Building on campus at JMU.
For more information about this conference, go here.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dedication of Learning Assistant Program in Honor of Dr. Don Chodrow


On Tuesday afternoon, May 15, 2018 the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy gathered along with several of our retired colleagues and the family of Dr. Don Chodrow to unveil a plaque in PCB 2212 to honor him and the contributions made in his name to support our Learning Assistants program. Dr. Chodrow was a beloved colleague and teacher and mentor to not only our students but to his younger colleagues during his 32 year career here at JMU. He came to JMU in 1980 and taught at all levels of our curriculum until his death in June, 2012. At the time of his passing, friends, family, colleagues, and former students joined to endow the Don Chodrow Memorial Scholarship Endowment which now funds scholarships for motivated undergraduate physics majors in our department every year.
In recent years, the department has begun to use Learning Assistants in our introductory physics courses as part of our PhysTEC program to produce more high school physics teachers. These undergraduate students work with professors in the classroom to guide students in PHYS240 and PHYS250 through active learning exercises. The LAs also take a course on science pedagogy to better understand common misconceptions their fellow students have and how to lead them to understanding the material better.
Given Don's dedication to teaching, it seems fitting that a new fund has been created in his honor to support the stipends for the LAs. To make the LAs and their students aware of his impact, we have placed a plaque in the classroom where these courses meet. The unveiling ceremony was planned especially for May 15 since that is Don's birthday and also a day on which his wife, Dr. Ruth Chodrow
Dr. Ruth Chodrow with Don's plaque.
, and her mother and sister could attend. Dr. Bill Ingham, professor emeritus of physics, gave remarks and told stories of the many years he worked with Don. Other faculty also shared their remembrances of his impact on their careers. Finally, Ruth gave us her thought and pointed out how wonderful it was that Don was back in a classroom again.
Thanks to everyone who made this a touching and memorable day.
If you are interested in contributing to the Chodrow Memorial Fund for Physics Learning Assistants, please contact the JMU Foundation or email the us directly at physics@jmu.edu.