Friday, October 29, 2010

Balloons, Bowling, Bots & Warm Gas

On October 15th, the 2010 JMU Physics Alumnus of the Year, Professor Joseph Howard from Salisburg University, came back to campus. Things were a little bit different from when he graduated in 1990. The Physics Department has moved from Miller Hall over to the new Physics and Chemistry Building on the east side of campus. It also has changed its name to become the Physics and Astronomy Department with over a hundred physics majors, four major research groups, and 20 faculty.

Professor Howard also experienced a lot of changes after he graduated from JMU in 1990. He went on to the University of Oklahoma where he got an MS (1993) and a PhD (1998). From there he went to Salisbury University where he became an assistant professor, then associate professor, and is now the Chair of the Department. He is active in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) research - looking for ways to improve STEM teaching for college bound high-school students. He has been a two-time winner of the CUL Salisbury University Faculty Member of the Year, and nominated for several teaching and mentoring awards.

As the 2010 JMU Physics Alumnus of the Year, Prof. Howard talked to our current crop of physics students about the great opportunities that a degree in physics can prepare you for. In his case, his research includes detailed studies of nebula in the nearby galaxy M101. That lead to balloon borne astronomical studies, and involving his students on analyzing the data. A student project led to a long-term project for he and his students developing robots. Most recently, he and his students worked on a detailed study of bowling ball physics. All of these projects reflect his attitude in research; that you have to prepared for unforeseen opportunities. Professor Howard pointed out he learned at JMU that a background in physics can give you the flexibility you need to explore lots of different opportunities; be it studying distant astronomical objects floating in space, launching rockets, building robots that can learn, going bowling, or ...well that last one is up to you!