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."