Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lunar Eclipse

According to Wikipedia (that source of all things true and correct),  the eclipse on December 21, was the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice (Southern Summer Solstice) since 1638, and only the second in the Common Era. Not sure that the timing makes it special, but it sure make it rare.

Here is a time-lapse video of the eclipse for those who could not stay awake or, like me, were in a cloudy spot.

You earn extra points for explaining the ruddy color of the moon during the totality and why it is not simply black (invisible).

Monday, December 20, 2010

What to do with a physics degree

Even if you know that you like physics, this can be a confusing question to answer. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you work through this decision.

And for a much broader view, check out Engineering, Science and Math Careers for an extensive list of possibilities to explore.

There are tons of career options and the list is growing as our society becomes more technically based. Physics (and Astronomy) are excellent choices for a broad range of science careers.

PandA@JMU is the very best place to start this journey. But you knew that, right?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fall semester has ended

Today was the December graduation ceremony. The house was full and everyone was happy and cheering. Three of our majors graduate this semester and we are indeed proud of them.

We're at the halfway point of the academic year. At this point we pause to catch our breath and celebrate the season with friends and family. We here in the PandA wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.

In January we are all busy again. Dr. Butner has a full schedule for the spring seminar series already. Among the visitors are James Green the Director of Planetary Science at NASA and Gary White the Director of the Society of Physics Students.

The Saturday Morning Physics program promises to be exciting. Enrollment is at capacity (about 60, last check) and we are preparing for bringing the excitement of physics to many students, parents and teachers in the region. The high school physics video contest is well advertised and we already know of several schools in the area that will have students entering.

We have many dedicated students working on research with our faculty preparing for the spring symposium (last year's is here). Several students will also be using the symposium as a preparation for taking their work on the road to regional and national conferences. We will recognize our outstanding students at the annual honors banquet on Wednesday April 6.

The first installment of our planned applied nuclear physics track will be offered this spring. Dr. Banu will teach a new course in introductory nuclear science and a lab to go with it. The new Madison Radiation Laboratory (the old RMH Cancer Center) is slowing beginning to take shape as we start through the licensing process so we can the turn on our linacs and x-ray machine.

A busy year ahead, indeed. Stay tuned as we move forward with these exciting programs.

Oh yeah. I forgot. We will also be teaching.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

...and a good time was had by all!

This year's holiday party was another success in a long line of successes. Everyone had pizza and sodas and great (read=silly) gifts were exchanged by the seniors and the faculty. There was dancing by Santa and his helpers (above, left to right: Gabriel Niculescu (Santa), Art Fovargue (Chief Elf), Adriana Banu (Mrs. Santa), and Kevin Giovanetti(Elf)) and great merriment. The senior video was well done and everyone had a good laugh.

The pizza and sodas were eagerly consumed.

See all the photos here.

Space Shuttle

For those of you out there that are devoted space shuttle fans, here's the video for you. I have always thought that the lift off was a graceful and dramatic event with the roll maneuver happening just after it clears the tower. On this lengthy video you can see it in slow motion.

The multiple camera angles and the high-speed photography are truly impressive. Enjoy this farewell to the end of an era.

PandA will soon have it's own memento of this amazing machine and the exploration it made possible. We have ordered a tile from one of the decommissioned shuttles. The thermal properties are still difficult to conceive even after all these years of seeing it work.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

USA Science and Engineering Festival 2010

Thousands of people gathered on the National Mall (Washington, DC) for the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which ran from Sunday, Oct. 10, through Sunday, Oct. 24. On October 24, Dr. Costel Constantin together with seven physics major and one nursing major volunteered with both Nanoscale Informal Science Education Networked/Material Research Society, and PBS WGBH/NOVA Making Stuff booths. The students who come with me are Anita Vincent-Johnson (Physics), Anthony Chieco (Physics), Jimmy Hauver (Physics), Cheyenne Shafte (Physicss), Denise McKaig (Physics), Alexandra Iuga (Physics), Christina Hanks (Physics), and Emily Schofield (Nursing). Our students explained how the properties of materials change with size. After the event, we were fortunate to be invited to the radio show “STEM SELLS” hosted by Prof. Brian Utter, and Prof. Mark Mattson from Physics and Astronomy Department. Related to this event, there is an article published in the Madison Magazine titled "Lego robotics, hydrogen cars, geospatial tech on the D.C. Mall". The article can be found at page 14, in the latest winter 2011 edition of Madison Magazine. Here I am carbon-copying the paragraph in which we were mentioned within the article “Dr. Costel Constantin (Physics and Astronomy) volunteered with both Nanoscale Informal Science Education Networked/Material Research Society and PBS WGBH/NOVA Making Stuff booths, with the help of JMU students Anita Vincent-Johnson (Physics), Anthony Chieco (Physics), Jimmy Hauver (Physics), Cheyenne Shafte (Physicss), Denise McKaig (Physics), Alexandra Iuga (Physics), Christina Hanks (Physics), and Emily Schofield (Nursing). They explained properties of carbon nanotubes, nano sands, and strengths of nanofabrics to Festival visitors.” I would like to thank all our student volunteers for doing a great job.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A New Look

We've finally upgraded the blog design. Hope you like it.

Annual Holiday Party is coming Friday

This Friday (December 10), we will again have a visit from the jolly fellow with the white beard in room 2122 at 2:15 as we celebrate the end of the semester in the department holiday party. You realize of course that the jolly fellow to which I refer is D. Gabriel Niculescu in disguise, right? You didn't really think it was Santa did you?

Come if you can. There'll be pizza, sodas and a good time have by all.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

This is what happens when you aren't a physics major.

As you may recall, in a previous post to this blog the strong preparation for medical school that a physics degree offers was pointed out. Let me see if I can add a little fuel to this fire.

In the journal in Diabetes Care we find the following article:

A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves. M M Tai 

Diabetes Care February 1994vol. 17 no. 2 152-154
From the title it sounds suspicious  already. Check out this excerpt from the abstract:
OBJECTIVE--To develop a mathematical model for the determination of total areas under curves from various metabolic studies. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS--In Tai's Model, the total area under a curve is computed by dividing the area under the curve between two designated values on the X-axis (abscissas) into small segments (rectangles and triangles) whose areas can be accurately calculated from their respective geometrical formulas. The total sum of these individual areas thus represents the total area under the curve. 
It seems the M. M. Tai has re-invented that process all physics (and math) majors learn in their second semester of calculus...we call it integration. Sort of sounds like the trapezoidal rule, eh? Clever that the author names the "model" after himself, isn't it?

While it is true that a physics major who becomes an MD would never try to publish this since it is old hat and we all know this, just think of all the new things you could publish: the energy required to lift a patient is proportional to the patient's mass and the change in height, the rate of flow through a hypodermic is proportional to the pressure applied to the piston, the time rate of change of a disease can be determine by the an examination of the change between two successive measurements. The list is endless. Why, you could publish your way into tenure at any hospital, no sweat. Just think of the wondrous new effects you could name for yourself!

Did I mention that this paper has 75 citations?


Chromatography of Hydrogen Isotopes, part II

The paper in progress over the summer by Dr. Whisnant, Travis Kelly and Patrick Hansen has been accepted by the Review of Scientific Instruments. Final corrections are in progress and it should be published early next year.

The figure shows the chromatogram and our fit to it for a sample that is about 6.6% H2 and 3.5% D2. The scale has been expanded by dividing the data for the HD peak by 10. As you can see, the p-H2 and  o-H2 peaks are well separated and the HD tail under the D2 is small. The fits are difficult to distinguish from the data since they are so good! There's no fit to the HD peak shown, it is numerically integrated.

They also have a nice model for understanding the plateau between the p-H2 and  o-H2 peaks in the region around 15 minutes retention time, but you'll need to read the paper to get the details.

Congratulations to Travis and Patrick...two more of our undergraduates published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

We have a logo!

In an effort to develop an identity for our department as we increase our marketing and outreach, we have created a department logo to plaster all over everything PandA. After many faculty meetings and much discussion, we have landed on this design. We went with monochrome to simplify reproduction. The design comes in the JMU purple and gold and in black as shown below. In addition to the versions listed here, we also have version with "transparent white" so the background color shows through. This will give us plenty of variation while still presenting the same design.

Look for one of this graphics to start showing up everywhere. The next step is to get this on all department web pages and start printing it up for distribution on stickers and the like.
We hope that soon, everyone will think of JMU PandA when they see this design.

Open House

Today from 9-12, the admissions office sponsored another open house. There was a larger total turnout for this event than the one in September by about 40%. This attendance was, more or less, reflected in our workload. The numbers in the formal presentations were about the same order of magnitude as before, but there seemed to be somewhat more activity in the hallways and lab tours.

If we are seeing about 15 or so each time, we're on track to another solid recruiting year. Perhaps not a stellar one with the economy in the tank, but a very respectable one, nonetheless.