Monday, December 28, 2009

A short note from Lori Jackson

We here at the PandA blog, we recently heard from Lori Jackson. She writes...

Working at NRL is really great! A lot of it is very similar to the research at JMU with the detectors. Except I mostly use software that models the runs we would do to see if it's worth building a certain detector setup. The software is only linux and mac based, so I get very frustrated going home to my PC that really can't do much of anything.

To be more succinct I use SWORD (SoftWare for Optimisation of Radiation Detection) to model real life scenariors and determine the potential outcome based on various factors.
Everyone here is very nice and easy to work with. This job is truely a better oportunity than I could have hoped for in todays economy.

.
.
.

She's applying for graduate school to study nuclear engineering.
With a degree from JMU, how can she go wrong?!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another entry from Lawrence Lewis

Lawrence is moving on with this career and felt the need to once again to drop us a line and update his earlier comments. We are always glad to hear from you, so send a note.

Here's Lawrence's latest note:

The greatest benefit of studying science, and I would argue physics or astronomy in particular, is that it prepares you for almost anything afterwards. The varied paths of my life and that of many of my friends in the major add great credence to that statement.

Physics majors are among the highest scorers on the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and GMAT (which are the standardized tests to enter graduate school, medical school, law school, and business school, respectively). This is not because the smartest freshmen decide to take up physics (definitely not me), but rather that a scientifically and mathematically rigorous education provides people with strong skills in reasoning and analysis. It requires skill and ingenuity to craft from scratch an original solution to an abstract unsolved problem. (And that feeling of working weeks upon weeks on a research project and finally getting an answer, discovering something nobody else knows, is simply incredible.) It is these skills that you develop through research experience and problem set after problem set (after problem set after problem set…) that prepares you for almost any path afterwards, like it did for me. Despite my words above, it is my real experience as a JMU Physics & Astronomy major and the implications that it had for my life afterwards that reveal how versatile and indispensible a physics education truly is.

I decided to do physics on a whim. I was undecided as an incoming freshmen and hated being as much. So, I closed my eyes and randomly pressed my finger to the page (literally). At first, I struggled to break into the middle of the pack. I debated leaving the major for something I found easier. However, the smallness of the major and the general approachability and likeability of the professors convinced me to stick around (I had Dr. Hughes, Dr. Utter, and Dr. Whisnant my first semester—I was spoiled from the start). The professors are what make JMU Physics & Astronomy so great. They avidly try to get to know you, make sure you succeed, and get you in the lab (I have actually witnessed fights over which professor gets which student for research). The relationship between the faculty and students is something I have seen nowhere else at JMU. My professors definitely had a genuine interest in me, and it paid off. After earning my first ‘A’ in Phys 240, I was hooked. Over the next four years I reveled in studying the intricacies of everything from quantum mechanics to the life cycles of stars. But something I consider more valuable than what I learned at JMU is what I learned in the labs during the summers.

I started researching early, the second semester of my freshman year, and it was probably one of the best decisions I made at JMU. I researched in nuclear physics, materials science, condensed-matter physics, and cosmology. Researching paid really well and allowed me to work at JMU, NIST in Colorado, NASA, and Northwestern University. I worked on everything from a hydrogen distillery operating at -425 degrees Fahrenheit to a 2000 Watt laser with a beam you couldn’t even see (a very scary thought). The diversity of my experiences, beyond any doubt, gave me a unique and unparalleled undergraduate experience. It also gave me an appreciation for science that I decided to share with others after I graduated.

After earning my diploma, I decided to take the altruistic route as a high school teacher in New Orleans. My familiarity with the application of math allowed me to enthrall my students and enrich their learning experience. Afterwards, I moved into the business world (admittedly a little further from that altruistic path), working as an IT consultant. Although unfamiliar with business in general, my experience with practical problem-solving, research, and computer programming allowed me to maintain pace with my peers conventionally educated in business.

Despite leaving academia, my love for research has not waned. I have just been offered one of my dream jobs as a nuclear forensic scientist (tracing illicit nuclear material) in the SF Bay Area. This job will culminate with my entrance to graduate school, where I will earn my Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and (hopefully) begin a fruitful scientific career at the International Atomic Energy Agency in nuclear security.

Many students were scared off from physics during high school because they had terrible teachers. The opposite is the case here. The professors at JMU (again, the department’s best asset) are clamored for because they can make the subject clear (but not simple—we’re not at Hogwarts). It is an intimidating major, but without question one of the most rewarding JMU offers. I would not have the same appreciation for my education if my finger had landed elsewhere on the page. Choosing to study physics, without a doubt, was the best decision I made at JMU, and it opened more doors than I ever could have imagined.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Graduation - December 2009

After a long semester (aren't they all?), we've reached the end. Today, the December graduation ceremony was help in the Convocation Center. The speaker was J. Craig Williams, a 1979 graduate.

This year, four physics majors graduated:

  • Thomas John Dowd

  • Richard Bennett Dunlap
    (Also met the requirements for teaching licensure)

  • Suzanne Ellen Lynch
    (Magna Cum Laude)

  • Kevin Connor Nash
    (Cum Laude)


We are indeed proud of these students and their accomplishments.

Friday, November 13, 2009

JMU Astro visits Green Bank

One of the benefits to our location is the close proximity to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, WV. The JMU Astronomy Club organized a trip there this fall and the folks in the folks in our public affairs office gave it some coverage. Read the story here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Elkton Middle School Physics Lab! Part II


Execution of the plan:

When we got to Elkton Middle School we started with the Lenz’s tube. Rick tricked the students into thinking that if the person holding the tube was better at sports, than the metal slug would fall slower, which really got the boys upset when they found out the girls were better at sports than them. Of course we had to tell them the truth that he had been switching the metal slug with a magnet, but made a perfect lead into that day’s activities. We then broke the students up into two groups of four where one group would be building and experimenting with electromagnets and the other group would be doing Galileo’s experiment.

The students loved building the electromagnets and it sounded like Laura and Curtis were running their own little gossip table, but it wasn’t gossip, it was physics. It seemed to really peak their interest when after building their electromagnets, they actually worked and in fact had a little competition going to see who could get more paper clips on their magnet. Our winner of the day with a total of 80 paper clips (the picture to the right shows about 25 paper clipsThen they were asked why some people would have more paper clips than others, showing them that more coils would actually produce a stronger magnet. The students were also asked if this effect could happen backwards, or if you could use a magnet to create a current by moving that magnet through a coil of wire.

While Rick was running Galileo’s experiment all we heard was a constant 1….2….3….GO, as they were trying to synchronize their stopwatches to when they were dropping the carts down the tracks. There were constant measurements being taken of the height of the drop to how far is rolling down the hill to how much time does it take to get there. They were really excited to see that when they put their data that they measured into the excel program, they were able to get really close to the acceleration due to gravity. We were able to get 9.5 m/s2 and 10.5 m/s2 by running this experiment, which was really close.

Then we brought all of the students back together to show how what they researched today helped them out with solving their initial problem of how the Lenz’s Tube worked, with the induced magnetic force pushing back up against the force of gravity to slow it down!



Elkton Middle School Physics Lab!


Planning out the strategy:

Laura Simone, Curtis White, Rick Dunlap
went to Elkton Middle School with Lynn Lucatorto to share a little physics. Here's there story:

We wanted to find a unique way of explaining Lenz’s Tube to middle school students that would break it down to help them to see the forces that acted on the magnet as it fell through the aluminum tube. To do this we needed to look at the electromagnetic force as well as the gravitational force. We decided to break it down into two labs: building and testing electromagnets and Galileo’s experiment to find the acceleration due to gravity.

The idea of electromagnets was thought up as a great way to show the relationship between electricity and magnetism as well as it would a great project for each of the students to make and would be able to take home with them. Curtis and Laura had to figure out what materials were needed and what was necessary during the construction to make sure that it went smoothly. A simple idea was to wrap a copper wire around a non-galvanized nail and connect it to a D battery.
Galileo’s experiment for finding “g” by rolling balls down an inclined plane was used because up until this point the students know that gravity is pulling them down, but did not know how fast. So this would give them the chance to measure “g” themselves.

To do this, Rick set up a frictionless track and cart on a movable stand that would allow the students to change the height and therefore chance the angle that it dropped at. They would then be able to time each drop at each angle. The math did seem a bit difficult so an excel spreadsheet was created to help them out with that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Picnic

Once again it is time for the semi-annual department picnic. Here we see Ryan Burke armed with the tools necessary for good Physics and Astronomy picnic: a unicycle and a bull whip. I mean, come on... what else do you need for a good picnic?


Well it sure doesn't hurt to have two jolly and able cooks. Instead we have Dr. Scully and Dr. Niculescu stoking the fires and manning the "kitchen".

Nevertheless, lots of eating occurred and fun was had all around.

Fun and games for everyone!

We'll do this again in the spring...don't miss it!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Fall Semester Begins!

And part of the process of starting up is a day of meetings. Since we're all together (one), it seemed like a good time to make a group photo.

From left to right: the back row... Steve Whisnant, Mark Mattson, Geary Albright, Brian Utter, Lynn Lucatorto, Harold Butner, William Alexander, Jim Butt, Thomas O'Neill; The middle row... Bill Ingham, Art Fovargue, Sean Scully, Chris Hughes, Scott Paulson, Anca Constantin, Gabriel Niculescu; The front row... Kevin Giovanetti, Joe Rudmin, Dorn Peterson, Giovanna Scarel, Ioana Niculescu, Don Chodrow.

There are 22 of us in the picture, 21 full time. We're now a pretty big department. Just one big happy family.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Another reason to attend JMU and study Physics and Astronomy



In case you needed another reason to spend
your life looking at the sky, here it is.
Sometimes looking at nothing can be very rewarding.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robotics Workshop



Between July 20 and 25 Kevin Giovanetti and Gabriel Niculescu joined forces with Nick Swayne in education to present a robotics workshop. This workshop for in-service high school and middle school teachers is part of the Virginia Initiative for Robotics in STEM Education (VIRSE). Teachers from the valley and as far away as Richmond and Martinsville attended.

The grant supporting this workshop also purchases large and small robots for potential use in the FIRST Robotics Competition and the FIRST Lego League. Kevin and Gabe taught the participants how to program the robots and how to incorporate them into the the sort of classroom activities that contribute to the Virginia SOLs.
Shown at the right is one of the smaller robots equipped with a pen it can move up and down. By suitable programming, it can draw figures on a sheet of paper. If the paper is graph paper, students can then compute slopes and connect to some math. By timing the motion of the robot we can determine the velocity and connect to a bit of physics.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Laurence Lewis Tells All...


In 2008, Laurence Lewis graduated from JMU with his Physics degree in hand. He's taken a few minutes to send a note about his experiences while here and in the wider world...

The greatest benefit of studying science, and I would argue physics or astronomy in particular, is that it prepares you for almost anything afterwards. If my life after JMU (and that of many of my friends) is any indication, then this is indeed true.

Physics majors are among the highest scorers on the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and GMAT (which are the standardized tests to enter graduate school, medical school, law school, and business school, respectively). This is not because the smartest freshmen decide to take up physics (definitely not me), but rather that a scientifically and mathematically rigorous education provides people with unmatched skills in reasoning and analysis. It is fairly straightforward (though tedious) to write a paper for Political Science or History. However, it requires skill and ingenuity to craft from scratch an original solution to an abstract unsolved problem. (And that feeling of working weeks upon weeks on a research project and finally getting an answer, discovering something nobody else knows, is simply incredible.) It is these skills that you develop through research experience and problem set after problem set (after problem set after problem set…) that prepares you for almost any path afterwards, like it did for me. Despite my words above, it is my real experience as a JMU Physics & Astronomy major and the implications that it had for my life afterwards that reveal how versatile and indispensible a physics education truly is.

I decided to do physics on a whim. I was undecided as an incoming freshmen and hated being as much. So, I closed my eyes and randomly pressed my finger to the page (literally). At first, I struggled to break into the middle of the pack. I debated leaving the major for something easier…maybe Business or ISAT. However, the smallness of the major and the general approachability and likeability of the professors convinced me to stick around (I had Dr. Hughes, Dr. Utter, and Dr. Whisnant my first semester—I was spoiled from the start). The professors are what make JMU Physics & Astronomy so great. They avidly try to get to know you, make sure you succeed, and get you in the lab (I have actually witnessed fights over which professor gets which student for research). The relationship between the faculty and students is something I have seen nowhere else at JMU. My professors definitely had a genuine interest in me, and it paid off. After earning my first ‘A’ in Phys 240, I was hooked. The trend continued for the next four years while I studied the intricacies of everything from quantum mechanics to the life cycles of stars. But something I consider more valuable than what I learned at JMU is what I learned in the labs during the summers.

I started researching early, the second semester of my freshman year, and it was probably one of the best decisions I made at JMU. I researched in nuclear physics, materials science, condensed-matter physics, and cosmology. Researching paid really well and allowed me to work at JMU, NIST in Colorado, NASA, and Northwestern University. I worked on everything from a hydrogen distillery operating at -425 degrees Fahrenheit to a 2000 Watt laser with a beam you couldn’t even see (a very scary thought). The diversity of my experiences, beyond any doubt, gave me a unique and unparalleled undergraduate experience. It also gave me an appreciation for science that I decided to share with others after I graduated.

After earning my diploma, I decided to take the altruistic route as a high school teacher in New Orleans. My familiarity with the application of math allowed me to enthrall my students and enrich their learning experience. Afterwards, I moved into the business world, working as an IT consultant. Although unfamiliar with business in general, my experience with practical problem-solving, research, and computer programming allowed me to maintain pace with my peers conventionally educated in business.

Despite leaving academia, my love for research has not waned. I have just been offered one of my dream jobs as a nuclear forensic scientist (tracing illicit nuclear material) in the SF Bay Area. This job will culminate with my entrance to graduate school, where I will earn my Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and (hopefully) begin a fruitful scientific career at the International Atomic Energy Agency in nuclear security.

Many students were scared off from physics during high school because they had terrible teachers. The opposite is the case here. The professors at JMU (again, the department’s best asset) are clamored for because they can make the subject clear (but not simple—we’re not at Hogwarts). It is an intimidating major, but without question one of the most rewarding JMU offers. I would not have the same appreciation for my education if my finger had landed elsewhere on the page. Choosing to study physics, without a doubt, was the best decision I made at JMU, and it opened more doors than I ever could have imagined.

-------

In about 3 weeks, Laurence is off to LLNL to be a nuclear forensic scientist!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Catching Up With Alums - Simon Hale '04


Simon Hale (shown in the center of the picture at right taken while he was in the REU program in 2002) graduated from James Madison University, VA in May 2004 with a B.S. in Physics. During his time at JMU, Simon completed course work in theoretical, experimental, and computational physics as well as worked in a number of different labs. His lab work included the collaborative projects of the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) detector and the MUon Lifetime ANalysis (MULAN). Simon’s longest research project started as a National Science Foundation (NSF) Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in material science with the former Professor Rama Balasubramanian. This research continued during the school year and culminated in a poster presentation at the 10th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.
Simon is currently completing the Industrial Leadership in Physics, Ph.D. program at Georgetown University. He completed course work in condense matter physics and supplemental courses in business and finance. As part of the program at Georgetown he spent a year at IBM's Almaden Research Center, in San Jose, California. He worked under Dr. Barbara Jones on problems related to increasing the storage density of magnetic materials used in magnetic tapes for archival storage. Simon’s current work is in the field of theoretical condensed matter physics under his advisor Professor Jim Freericks. This work deals with utilizing dynamical mean field theory to solve problems related to thermal and electrical transport in multilayered nanodevices.

If you are a JMU Physics & Astro alum, let us know what you are doing so we can show the world how many different things you can do with a degree in physics.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Want to get a good paying job?

Major in Physics!

Of course, the best place to do this is right here at JMU! A July 20 article in the New York Times shows the results of a survey that puts physics very high on the list.
DESCRIPTION

Assuming that you're interested in coming to JMU, then of the majors listed in the graphic, you have three choices for a high paying job: economics, physics and computer science. Why be a computer scientist when you could study physics or economics and get a better paying job and have a lot more fun? Economics edges out physics in the long run, but physics starts out a bit better. And seriously, wouldn't you really rather study physics?! We have all the lab toys, cool software, and use them for exploring the universe. Now we learn that we actually can get paid pretty well for this.

And keep in mind that an undergraduate degree in physics is an excellent entree to graduate school in engineering.

Kinda like learning that besides tasting good, chocolate is good for you!

You'll also see that this article lists the median starting and mid-career salaries for all students at some really prestigious schools. Take note that the starting and mid-career salaries for all graduates from Yale is about the same as physics. Only eight of these 20 top-rated institutions have better averages for all their students than physics majors.

Just something to tell Mom and Dad when they ask for the 475th time what physics is and why you want to study it.

John C. Wells Planetarium

William Alexander made the news this week by showcasing our fine state-of-the-art planetarium. Check out the story and the photos at the News Leader.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's up this summer - Part 1

Most academic physicists feel a responsibility to "spread the word" about science and try to help people see why they find science, mathematics, engineering, and technology so fascinating. One of the ways we do this at JMU is through our outreach programs whether helping out at the Harrisonburg Children's Museum, hosting school groups at the John C. Wells Planetarium, or working with in service teachers. This week the lab classrooms on the second floor of the PHCH building have been taken over by robots. JMU physics profs Kevin Giovanetti and Gabriel Niculescu have been helping Nick Swayne, external relations director for the JMU College of Education, host teachers from across Virginia for a workshop on robotics as a tool for teaching math and science. The program has gotten attention not only on campus but also in the local media. Thanks to Kevin, Gabe, Nick and all the others involved in making this a great experience for everyone involved.
UPDATE: This got coverage on the local TV news, too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Snapshot of the Department


Each spring we gather information to get an idea of where the JMU PandA stands in relation to other physics departments in Virginia and the nation. Some data comes from the State Commission on Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) and some comes from the American Institute of Physics (AIP). The SCHEV data is from 2008 and the AIP data is from the 2007 report.

What we see this year is similar to what we've seen in recent years: JMU is a large department. The figure above shows the integrated number of physics departments smaller than a given size for all (reporting) institutions and for undergraduate-only institutions. As you can see, there are only 10 undergraduate-only institutions in the national larger than us! When considering all institutions, JMU is larger than all but 72 physics departments. This means that only 10.4% of all (reporting) physics departments in the nation are larger than us! Since the people who don't report almost always have nothing to report, we're almost certainly in the top 10% of all departments.

This is really an amazing statistic and promises to only get better. This year Giovanna Scarel and Anca Constantin have joined our faculty and Jamey Szalay has been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship. With our outstanding (and growing) faculty and the ability to recruit more excellent students like Jamey (we awarded ten scholarships this year to freshmen!), we are on track to really add quality to our program, no just size.

If you look at the most recent SCHEV data (2008) on graduation rates from Phyiscs Departments in Virginia, we find that only two departments produced more physics graduates than JMU: University of Virginia (21) and William and Mary (18). Our 17 graduates puts us very much in contention with these two universities.

And just to be sure you get the point, consider the number of junior and senior physics majors as a measure of the size of the department. According to the AIP, there are only 8/461 undergraduate-only programs larger than us (we had 50 in 2007) and 66/690 larger out of all institutions.

So, here's the point: If you want to be part of a vibrant undergraduate physics department that's large enough for lots of opportunities but not so large you get lost, JMU is the place for you. Both size and quality - we've got them both!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Graduation: May 9, 2009





So, the big day finally arrives. It was cloudy and looked like rain all morning but we managed to get through all the festivities without anyone getting wet.

The graduate school has grown to the point where it has finally been given its own separate ceremony on Friday night so that Saturday morning is all about the undergraduates. This shortens the main ceremony and gives it a clear focus on what JMU is really all about: undergraduates. The speaker this year was Paul Holland ('82). Paul has become an important actor in the green movement and he gave what most people reckoned was probably an above average commencement address.

The satellite ceremony for the College of Science and Mathematics was held again this year on the lawn next to the East Campus Library. We had a good crowd. There was a reception afterwards with food and drink provided by the College. A good time was had by all.

Continuing with our new tradition of having a speaker at the College ceremony as well, this year we heard from Mathematics professor, Dr. David Pruett. He gave a thoughtful and inspiring talk and it was well received. the photo above shows David in one of his reflective moments at the reception.

We tried to gather all the PandA grads for a photo after the ceremony and we got most of them. As you can see in the photo, only the guys showed up. More photos are going on the PandA web page soon so you can see all the details of who was there.

There were a total of 15 grads this spring. Adding in the 2 from December, we have a total of 17 again this year. JMU PandA continues to be a strong and vibrant program.

We wish our graduate well and hope they come back often to visit and keep us up to date on their lives and careers. We wouldn't be upset if some were to make lots of money are remember us either!



Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stargaze Friday Night/Picnic Saturday

A busy weekend is coming up for the P&A department. On Friday night, April 17, the JMU Department of Physics & Astronomy will be hosting a star gaze (8:30-10:00pm) at the JMU astronomy park to welcome Saturn back to the evening skies, which is currently in the constellation Leo whose rings are nearly edge-on. This phenomenon only happens every 15 years. We'll have two 10-inch telescopes set up as well as several pairs of binoculars available. We encourage students, staff, as well as the general public to attend. Feel free to bring your own binoculars, or even small telescopes. The weather for Friday night should be clear. Admission is free.

On Saturday, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) will be hosting the spring department picnic at shelter #9 of Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg from 10:30 am to 3:00 pm. If you need a ride, you can meet in front of the Physics/Chemistry Building at about 10:20 am and catch one there.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jamey Szalay wins Goldwater Scholarship!

Our congratulations to Jamey for this outstanding accomplishment.

Details are found here.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tales from the March Meeting

Every year, one of the largest gatherings of physicists in the world is the March Meeting of the American Physical Society. Each year, thousands of physicists who specialize in condensed matter, solid state, materials, and related subdisciplines meet for a week in the middle of March to share what they've discovered. This year's meeting was in Pittsburgh, PA from 3/16-3/20 and was attended by JMU faculty members Chris Hughes, Scott Paulson, and Brian Utter, future faculty member Giovanna Scarel, and senior physics major Bruno Caputo.

Scott started out the week on Monday with a talk on the nanotube research he had been doing with physics majors Lok-Kun Tsui and Joe Hardcastle. On Wednesday, Bruno gave a talk on his research work on the adhesion of metal films to polymer surfaces. This is work he has been doingin the Augustine/Hughes lab with chemistry major Alan Mo and physics majors Jon Wyrick (now in grad school at UC-Irvine) and Ethan Rosenthal. Later on Wednesday afternoon, Chris gave a talk in a session about Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs on the impact of participation in our chemistry REU and materials REU program on student performance in the classroom. On Thursday morning, Giovanna gave a presentation of some of the research she has been doing at NCSU, some of which will be part of the lab she sets up here this fall. Finally, on Thursday, Brian talked about his work on jamming in granular systems. Brian's talk has the additional honor of being an "invited" talk, a distinction that shows that the organizers of that session identified him as one of the more prominent researchers in that field and asked him to come to the meeting to present it.

Bruno's talk is exceptional in another way. While it is not unheard of, it is not typical for undergraduates to have the opportunity to present at the March Meeting. The vast majority of talks are given by professors, post-docs, industrial and governmental staff scientists, and grad students. Bruno was kind enough to give us some of his thought on the experience:

"Undergraduate research at James Madison University is what makes the primary undergraduate institution (PUI) concept such a beneficial experience. The research we get to take part in is on the forefront of science worldwide; the kinds of stuff graduate students get to work on. Not undergrads. Well, here at James Madison University, I am able to work side by side with my advisor, Dr. Chris Hughes. I am able to experiment with my own ideas and develop my own methods for solving problems. Being dedicated to my work, I was able to gather up enough results to present my work in front of a small crowd at the Virginia Academy of Science meeting at Hampton University in May 2008. This experience was a rush to say the least. I got to show all that I have learned and was quizzed at the end with questions to really prove myself.

Gaining the confidence to go out and do this again, Dr. Hughes recommended me talk at the APS March meeting in Pittsburgh last week. This was a whole new experience. March meeting [according to Dr. Paulson] is one of the biggest Materials Science/Condensed Matter symposiums in the world. There were people everywhere. Like a past researcher in my group said, “I never knew there were that many people out there like me.” This is the absolute truth. Conversations were overheard left and right from the electronic properties of graphene to thin film gold adhesion on polymer substrates. The latter was my topic. I got to give my talk in front of many more people and was the master of the topic in the room. It is a great feeling getting the experience of talking among grad students, professors and even Nobel Prize laureates and teaching them what I know and what I have worked so hard to obtain.

Next year I will be attending the University of California, Santa Barbara. Going to an R1 school like this, I will really be in there with the big dogs. The thing is, I will have more preparation and first hand research experience than most any incoming first years. These past presentations gave me the leg up as an undergraduate scientist."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Research Symposium - Update 4.9.9

Yesterday was the department's Spring Undergraduate Symposium. Thirteen Students that are engaged in research with our faculty presented their research. A good time was had by all.

Pictures are linked to a page on the department web site

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's been a busy recruiting year here in Physics and Astronomy!

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Anca Constantin has agreed to join our department in July this year.

Anca earned her B. S. degree from the University of Bucharest, Romania in 1995 and her Ph. D. from Ohio University in 2004. Since then she has held a postdoctoral position at Drexel University and a fellowship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA. Her research studies the accretion processes in the centers of galaxies. This includes the exploration of black holes at the center of galaxies and the so-called Active Galactic Nuclei. This is an exciting field of research and good complement to existing research in our department. She has been well funded by NASA and the NSF.

We are looking forward to Anca being part of our department and bringing her exciting research program to our students.

The addition of Anca brings us to a total 16 tenured/tenure-track faculty and a total of 21 full-time faculty. We're growing our department and our research opportunities for our students.

Welcome Anca!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

New Faculty Member: Giovanna Scarel

We are excited to announce that in July, Giovanna Scarel will join our department. 

Giovanna earned her Laurea in 1994 from the University of Treste, Italy. She earned her Ph.D. in materials engineering from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee in 2001 using infrared spectroscopy to study TiO2 films. From 2001-2007 she was a postdoc and research associate at the CNR-INFM-MDM National Laboratory in Milano, Italy. She comes to us from a postdoc position at North Carolina State University.

Her research is focused on the study of the thin films produced using atomic layer deposition techniques using IR spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy and ellipsometry. Of particular interest is the effect that sample geometry has on the optical properties at infrared wavelengths.

Giovanna has published 64 refereed papers and book chapters and been a Co-PI on 8 funded proposals (on 3 of these she took the lead). 

We are delighted to have such an accomplished and capable scientist join our department. We anticipate many exciting new opportunities for our students and new collaborations and directions for the materials science group.

Welcome Giovanna! 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fooling Around With High Speed Video
One of the tools that is used for research in the Physics and Astronomy department is a high speed video camera. Just in the process of learning how to use this camera, I took the following videos of a seltzer tablet being dropped into a beaker of water. In the first one, the camera is focused on the water in the beaker. Since the index of refraction of water is 1.33, this means that objects in the water will be slightly out of focus, so when the tablet falls in it get a bit blurry. However, it is still interesting to watch the splash in the water itself and how an air bubble "bounces" from the bottom of the beaker about half way through the video.


In the second take, I focused on an object inside the water so that the tablet would be in focus after it fell in. You can see that it is clearer now. It is interesting to note that the fizzing of the gas being liberated from the tablet doesn't start instantaneously, but seems to be delayed slightly even to the point that the large wave motion of the top of the water has died away by the time it really fizzes strongly.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Student Presentations at National Meetings

This spring our students are once again traveling to national conferences and meetings to present research done with our faculty.

A popular venue for undergraduates is the annual meeting of the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research - NCUR. This year it is held in LaCrosse, WI, April 16-18. This year there are four students making presentations:


Ralph Herman "Shear stresses in a water/sand system partially fluidized by low-intensity vertical vibration."


Ryan Burke "Analyzing gas chromatography data using ROOT"


Patrick Hansen "Gas Chromatography"


Patrick McCauley and Daniel Simonson "Stellar Ages of the Debris Sample"
(Patrick is presenting)


In addition, Bruno Caputo is attending the APS March meeting March 16-20 in Pittsburgh, PA. He is presenting a paper titled "The Promotion of Au Adhesion on Polymer Surfaces Using Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsequioxane." His co-authors include Jonathan Wyrick and Ethan Rosenthal, two other JMU physics students.

Thus, altogether, there are eight physics students who are authors or co-authors on papers and posters at national meeting this spring.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Spring Symposium, 2009

Each spring, we host a physics and astronomy
 symposium at which our students present their research. Here is Laurence Lewis presenting his research on big bang nucleosynthesis.

The symposium this year is March 28th (this is a Saturday). This is a couple weeks before the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research has its annual meeting in LaCrosse, Wisconsin (April 16-18). This year we have several students (Patrick Hansen and Ryan Burke among them) presenting their work at this national meeting. This timing for our department symposium gives our students a chance to practice in front of a friendly audience before going out to the 'real world.'

Everyone is invited to join us at the symposium this year. We will have a guest speaker (TBA) and refreshments. It promises to be a good time for all us physics and astronomy geeks.

Bring your thinking cap and come join the fun.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Welcome to the JMU Physics & Astronomy blog. We plan on using this site to let you know about some of the goings on around the JMU Department of Physics and Astronomy. This may include pictures from events, news from the research labs, or profiles of our alumni. Please let us know if you have any content that you think the world needs to see about us and if appropriate, we'll post it here.