Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Faculty Member in Residence

Steve Whisnant has been selected to be the Faculty Member in Residence in London for the spring semester 2014.

It is time to take a little JMU physics to the international stage and include some non-majors in the experience.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Giovanetti Selected for Provost's Award

The 2012 Provost’s Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship goes to our own Dr. Kevin Giovanetti! Congratulations!!

More details are found on this page.

Just as an added bit of information: This recognition was first awarded in 2008 so this marks only the 5th year. Of the five recipients, two are in Physics and Astronomy -- Kevin and Ioana Niculescu.

Our plan to take over the world is on track.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Radiative polaritons at JMU

Radiative polaritons are known since their theoretical description by Fuchs and Kliewer in the sixties.  However, the reason why they are radiative was not explained, the existence of the radiation emitted was not proved, and the frequency range of that radiation was never found.  Three undergraduate students at JMU with the help of collaborators at the University of Utah and Howard University have done all this: Anita discovered why radiative polaritons are radiative, and Yosyp discovered the existence of the emitted radiation.  Yosyp and Harkirat found that the "radiated" radiation exists in the microwave to far-infrared frequency range.  For more details see the paper:  A.J. Vincent-Johnson, Y. Schwab, H.S. Mann, M. Francoeur, J.S. Hammonds, and G. Scarel, “Origin of the low frequency radiation emitted by radiative polaritons excited by infrared radiation in planar La2O3 films”.  J. Phys: Condens. Matter 25, 035901 (2013).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Saturday Morning Physics 2013

Registration is now open!

Meet the Scientist: Saturday Morning Physics

For the third year, the Physics and Astronomy Department in collaboration with JMU’s Outreach & Engagement, invite high-school students and science teachers to take part in an engaging enrichment program developed in a sequence of six easy-to-follow scientific exploration events.

Register online!

January 26-March 2
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
James Madison University- Bioscience Building

For detailed program information, please click here!

Questions ? email outreach@jmu.edu or call 540/568-5532

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Virginia Academy of Science - Undergraduate Research Meeting

On Saturday October 27 2012, the Virginia Academy of Science Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting took place at the Reynolds Community College in Richmond.  The JMU Undergraduate student in Physics Harkirat Mann presented a poster entitled "The origin of fluctuations in the heat and radiation excited Seebeeck effect".  Harkirat and his advisor, Dr. Govanna Scarel, describe an apparatus that will help understanding whether an environment free of humidity and heat variations aids in observing delicate voltage transients.  Harkirat will build the apparatus in the next months, and the results of the research will help him and his group to improve the research on harvesting infrared radiation by transforming it into electricity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Intruguing non-linear phenomena discovered at JMU!

How is it possible that a voltage signal excited by infrared radiation decays as the excitation source remains on?  Anita Vincent-Johnson, who graduated in physics at JMU on May 2012, found that the strange phenomenon might be due to chaotic transport in a thermoelectric power generator interacting with infrared radiation.  The mystery is not fully unveiled and the team of Dr. Scarel continues the investigations.  The latest news were published today:
A.J. Vincent-Johnson, A.E. Masters, X. Hu, and G. Scarel, “Excitation of radiative polaritons by polarized broadband infrared radiation in thin oxide films deposited by atomic layer deposition”.  J. Vac. Sci. Technol. A vol. 31, 01A111 1-4 (2013).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Study Physics?

Why should you study physics? Maybe you want to have a job when you graduate -and- make a lot of money? Perhaps you want to go Medical School? How about Law School? Or maybe Business School? Did you know that acceptance into these very competitive programs is (largely) based on your performance on standardized tests like the MCAT, LSAT, & GMAT? Did you know that Physics majors have the highest scores on these tests? That they have the lowest unemployment rates when they graduate? That they have amongst the highest paying jobs with an undergraduate degree in Physics? Besides, PHYSICS IS FUN! Learn more by watching this short clip, and then learn more about the Physics and Astronomy program at James Madison University

Come learn more about Physics & Astronomy at our OPEN HOUSE this Saturday from 9am to noon! Meet students & faculty, tour our labs, watch really cool physics demos, and learn more about the department, our scholarships, and the process at 10am and 11am in Room 2212 in the Physics & Chemistry building!

Click on the image frame below to see our "WHY PHYSICS?" video!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Big Reach of JMU Physics...

With blogs, Facebook, twitter, etc, and even teaching, we can sometimes forget just how far and wide the discussion reaches and just how small our planet becomes. Three recent examples demonstrates clearly just how large the reach is of JMU's Department of Physics & Astronomy.

1. Dr. Giovanna Scarel on WMRA's The Spark!
WMRA, the Valley's local NPR affiliate hosts a weekly show called "The Spark". This show is WMRA's look into "creativity", they "dig into whatever people are passionate about in the WMRA region: sculpture, model railroading, costume-making, poetry, whatever". On Friday, May 11, Dr. Giovanna Scarel was profiled on "The Spark". What is a photon?  Solid state physicist Dr. Giovanna Scarel explains photons and why such tiny things are intriguing. If you missed the interview, you can find the audiocast of it here.

2. Saturday Morning Physics Student Discovers a Pulsar!
For the past two years, Dr. Adriana Banu has organized a 6-week winter enrichment program for area high school students. The idea is to get them exposed to "cutting edge" physics, and to bring some of the excitement of the lab into the classroom for students to witness firsthand. 

Cecilia McGough, a senior at nearby Strasburg High School, participated in the 2nd Saturday Morning Physics program at JMUAfter her SMP experience, Cecilia spent the summer working at the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia where she became just the 6th high school student to discover a pulsarA pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation as the star rotates extremely quickly, just as a lighthouse sweeps out a bright patch of light as it rotates. McGough's pulsar has a period of 185.549 milliseconds and is about the size of Washington D.C.!

At the start of the year, much nonsense was spread on the internet about the Mayan calendar coming to an end, and how that portends the end of the world! Recently, JMU invited Dr. Phil Plait (the "Bad Astronomer") to debunk claims like these and others found online that the end-of-the-world is coming this December (more on this soon!). However, prior to his visit, Planetarium Director Shanil Virani wrote his own article for the Planetarium's website. While this was featured in a local newspaper article,  we very surprised to get the email below from a teacher in SOUTH AFRICA that were studying some of these doomsday claims! One of the students in the class actually referred to the Planetarium's 2012 debunking in their discussion and showed the website to her teacher! The email below was sent to Shanil Virani this past summer and is reprinted with permission from the author. 

From: Pauline Smith 
Subject: Excellent Article on JMU Website
Date: July 26, 2012 
To: Shanil Virani
I have just had the pleasure of reading your online article on Debunking the 2012 Doomsday Prophecies, and may I say – Bravo!
One of my learners brought up the subject of the end of the world in December 2012, and another mentioned your article in refuting her classmate’s assertion that “we’re all going to die before Christmas anyway!”
I found the blend of hard science and popular culture an unusual but effective tool to calm the hysteria and ‘talk them out of the trees’.
I especially liked your suggestion that the Planetarium be made the beneficiary if an individual is that certain of his or her imminent destruction!
Thank you for a well written article, and an unexpected laugh for an otherwise cold and wet Thursday.
Kind Regards,
Pauline Smith
HR: Learning and Development
Tel: +27 (0)21 427 4516
61 St Georges Mall Cape Town
Website: www.mhg.co.za

The moral of the story? JMU Physics has an enormous reach! From the Valley, to South Africa, to the distant reaches of the Cosmos! 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall Picnic 2012

On September 16 the department picnic was held in Purcel Park out by the pond. There was a great turnout and good food all around.

Although it was cloudy and a bit cooler that we hoped, there was a warm fire and good friends. And lots of fun.

The rest of the photos are found here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The 2012-2013 Academic Year Begins

So, here we are again.

Beginning of the school year and there are once again a few new faces in the crowd. For those of you who haven't visited us lately (and why aren't you stopping by?!), here's the key in order from left to right...

Front row:
Adriana Banu, Harold Butner, Sean Scully, Keigo Fukumura, Anca Constantin, Steve Whisnant

Second row:
Kim Emerson, Costel Constantin, Klebert Feitosa, Elizabeth Jeffery, Ioana Niculescu, Gabriel Niculescu

Third row:
Art Fovargue, Shanil Virani, Jarrett Lancaster, Kevin Giovanetti, Herb Slade, Chris Hughes

and hiding in the back;
Giovanna Scarel and Mark Mattson

Missing here are Brian Utter who is on sabbatical in Germany this year and Scott Paulson who is taking his Research Semester this fall and is working at UVa.

And so, with smiling faces (most of us any way), we greet the new year and prepare to excite our record entering class of 36 new physics majors!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

7 Minutes of Terror: Mars Curiosity Lands TONIGHT!

On Saturday, November 26 at approximately 10:02AM (EST), Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) lifted off from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41 en route to Mars. After more than 8 months in flight, MSL arrives very LATE tonight! The SUV-sized rover it is carrying, called Curiosity, is expected to touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet at 1:31AM (i.e., early Monday morning). After traveling 566 million kilometers, imagine a remote-controlled Cadillac Escalade landing in a dust storm.

This will be no easy feat. In fact, arriving and surviving touchdown would be an enormous scientific and engineering accomplishment. The landing sequence is incredibly risky (see image and 7 Minutes of Terror) and of Mankind's 39 missions to Mars, we've been successful only 15 times. I fully expect very late tonight to be the 16th time we've been successful in landing on Mars but it is important to be aware of the risk of failure and to recognize the extraordinary accomplishment if successful.

Despite the poor odds, we continue to go. Why? Mars Curiosity will open a new opportunity to study the habitable environment of the Red Planet. If you have come to the John C. Wells Planetarium recently, you will have heard me say during my star talk that in my opinion, the greatest discovery in science would be the discovery of life outside of Earth. While NASA's Kepler mission has done an extraordinary job discovering exoplanets, some even in the so-called "habitable zone" where water (should it exist) would be in its liquid form, the best evidence of life outside of Earth may come from within our Solar System, Mars in particular.

Previous missions to Mars has confirmed the hypothesis that Mars had liquid water in its past. But does Mars host life currently? Did it in the past? The answers to these questions have been inconclusive so far. This is where Mars Curiosity comes in. It is landing in Gale Crater, a carefully-chosen landing site after 5 years of analysis. This ~93 mile-wide-crater is an ancient impact basin for which there is very good evidence to suggest an ancient river once flowed through it. It is also a site with mineral-rich terrains and a mountain right in the middle where Curiosity will spend most of its time working to learn if it had an environment where microbes may have thrived.

This story begins tonight! Join me on twitter tonight where I will provide updates and commentary. You can watch NASA TV's feed online if your cable tv carrier does not carry it. Note that once Curiosity lands, it will be 14 minutes for us to receive telemetry that touchdown was successful and another 14 hours to get the first high resolution images that Curiosity will snap from its landing site.

My 2-year old son and I watched the launch on that Saturday morning after Thanksgiving Day and I am going to try to keep him up tonight for this historic landing!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The 2012--2013 Academic year

This year's incoming class is a new department record: 34 freshmen and 2 transfers for a total of 36. In addition, one of the freshmen is our first ever Dingledine scholar,  Devin Buenemeyer. This is a real honor for the department. We are extremely proud of her and delighted that she has chosen physics and our department. The graduating class this year was small (13) but next year's promises to be sizable (20 or more). With the addition of Shanil Virani as our recruiter, we have great expectations. Shanil has many excellent idea and a tremendous amount of energy. Jon Staib has passed the baton with a clear lead for the department and Shanil is ready to run (forgive the Olympics metaphor). Don't be surprised if remarkable things happen.

We have a strong incoming class this year. We have some very excellent students as upperclassmen. We are growing and getting better.

This year we add Keigo Fukumura and Jarrett Lancaster. Elizabeth Jeffery is staying with us for another year or two and searches to fill open positions are going to commence in a month or two. Costel Constantin is moving into a tenure track position. Brian Utter is going on sabbatical in Germany and Scott Paulson is taking the Research Semester in the fall to spend time in Charlottesville. Both are moving their research interests towards biological systems.

The department reached a new high this year in external funding with a total of over $4.77 million. The only tenure track faculty without external funding in the department are the new folks, Costel and Keigo, and they will be funded soon at the rate things are going. Such vigorous research is rare in undergraduate departments and actually not all that common in research institutions We are a young department with only three faculty (Kevin Giovanneti, Chris Hughes and Mark Mattson) hired before 2001.

We are still pushing to open the Madison Radiation Laboratory asap. and proposals are being written to obtain money for experiments there. Discussions with the university administration is continuing.

Every year is better that the last and this year is no exception.

Come visit.

Be part of the amazing PandA@JMU.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Washington Post says there are no science jobs, but...

The Washington Post has an article today about job prospects for scientists. The article, U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there, tries to paint a doom and gloom picture of the job prospects for scientists. It points to neuroscience and pharmaceuticals as places that are no longer hiring PhD's and that
it’s questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists — those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.
Sounds pretty nasty out there, doesn't it? Buried on page two is, however, the key point:
Two groups seem to be doing better than other scientists: physicists and physicians. The unemployment rate among those two groups hovers around 1 to 2 percent, according to surveys from NSF and other groups. Physicists end up working in many technical fields — and some go to Wall Street — while the demand for doctors continues to climb as the U.S. population grows and ages.

Catch that? 1 -2% unemployment for physicists and physicians.  In an economic downturn with overall unemployment of 8.2%? This would be great news in any kind of economy.

So in case you were wondering why an undergraduate degree in physics is the place to start your medical career, this is the reason. Not only is physics a great career choice, it is an ideal "plan B" for charting a path to medical school. What happens if you don't get into medical school? Only good things if you have a physics degree. An undergraduate degree in physics puts you in a place to get a good paying technical job or pursue graduate work for an even higher paying job. And it looks like your chances of finding that good paying job are 98-99%.

Physics. Still the best deal in town.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don Chodrow Memorial Scholarship Endowment

On behalf of the friends, current and former students and colleagues of Dr. Chodrow, a scholarship in his honor has been created. The Don Chodrow Memorial Scholarship Endowment will provide resources annually for one or more outstanding undergraduates in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

To be eligible for this scholarship, a student must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or higher and at least four semesters of study. By selecting from among our very best junior and senior physics majors, we honor the tradition of excellence for which Don was such a strong advocate both in and out of the classroom.

To create an endowed fund so that this scholarship is permanent, we must raise at least $25,000 by 2017. You may support this scholarship either by check or by giving on-line. Complete information is found on the web here.

Recognize the difference that Dr. Chodrow made in your life by considering a contribution to this fund. By "paying it forward" you can help us carry on his tradition of student centered education of the highest quality.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Don Chodrow

Physics and Astronomy has lost Don Chodrow to an automobile accident.  On Monday June 18th, Don was involved in a single car accident on I-81.  He was on his way to teach Phys 150 in summer session. He was flown to UVA Medical Center, but never regained consciousness. After organ donation, he was removed from life support on June 20th. One of the bright lights in our department has gone out.

Don was such a big part of our department for the past 32 years that it is impossible to understand what we will be without him. He was always a strong voice for high quality education for all of our students. As the long-time instructor of advanced mechanics (Phys 340), he guided our majors toward understanding physics deeply and broadly. His dedication to teaching is without parallel. He eagerly taught any and every course offered to him.  Don was routinely in front of classes that spanned the spectrum in our department, from GSCI 101 to second-semester quantum mechanics. He was a leader in curriculum development, chairing the Curriculum and Instruction Committee for more than a decade. He guided many students to graduation, successful careers, and graduate school in his role as an academic advisor. Our majors revered him.

His presence also filled the department in a dozen small ways. He was always quick with a laugh or a joke so bad you had to laugh in response.

Don always had a hand on the rudder of the ship that is Physics and Astronomy. We will continue in his absence for he would have it no other way, but without his steady hand our direction is just a bit less well-defined.

We are thankful for all that was gentle and noble in his life. We will miss you, dear friend.

The family asks that no flowers be sent. Donations may be sent to Temple House of Israel, P.O. Box 1412, Staunton, VA 24402, or to the Don Chodrow Memorial Scholarship Endowment. We are creating a scholarship in Don's name to continue his long tradition of putting our student's education first.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Science enabled by Photon Sources: Local interest in Virginia

On May 16 2012 the Workshop on "The Science enabled by Photon Sources: local interest in Virginia" took place at JMU. Several Faculty members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy were in the Organizing Committee (Dr. Whisnant, Dr. Hughes, and Dr. Scarel). Dr. Hughes, Dr. Utter, Dr. Feitosa, Dr. C. Constantin, and Dr. Scarel were among the presenters. The Workshop gave an ample view of the vast capabilities of photon Sources in various fields of Science. Dr. Ward Plummer (Louisiana State University), one of the keynote speakers, gave a historical picture of the evolution of Photon Science and offered an overview of the possible developments. His talk touched topics related to physics and materials science, in particular related to superconducting materials. The need of photon sources to improve the research in materials science was illustrated in the presentations of various JMU faculty members, who underlined the need for better imaging techniques, and more sensitive tools to perform chemical analysis in soft and hard materials. Dr. Peter Abbamonte (University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign), another keynote speaker, illustrated how the mystery of the lack of a band gap in graphene was solved using high energy photons produced in a storage ring. Other presenters from JMU and from other Universities in Virginia and Washington DC described the power of photon sources in understanding phase transitions in oxides, collective excitations, and the properties of photon themselves. Dr. Stefan Vogt (Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University), the third keynote speaker, succeeded in convincing that photon sources offer enormous possibilities in the fields of biology and medicine. A new JMU Chemistry faculty member supported the view. Other presentations illustrated new fascinating mysteries awaiting to be investigated with the powerful photon sources in the fields of environmental sciences, electronics and spintronics, and mentioned the technical challenges associated to the process of data acquisition. A radio interview of Dr. Scarel aired on May 11 2012 can be found at http://wmra.org/post/physicist-giovanna-scarel
Here is Dr. Utter ....
Here is Dr. Abbamonte ...
... and here is Dr. Scarel

Saturday, May 19, 2012

2nd Annual Video Contest

Judging for JMU physics' 2nd annual video contest is underway.  If you want to take a look at some of the videos high school students from Virginia and Maryland have entered, look here:


Details about this year's contest are on the department webpage, 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Physics weekend affairs again: the CAA Undergraduate Research Conference

The weekend of the April 13th-15th , [Jimmy Corcoran, a junior physics major] had the opportunity to participate at the Colonial Academic Alliance (CAA) Undergraduate Research Conference [at Old Dominion University in Norfolk].  Initially I wasn't sure I was skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy the experience, but I was quickly reassured.  There were events spaced out throughout the entire weekend, enough so that you always knew you were kept in an academic mindset, but not so many that you felt overwhelmed and didn't have enough time to relax.  Everything over the course of the trip went smoothly, both of the keynote speakers were fantastic speakers and were able to captivate the entire audience, regardless of their academic focus; the spacing out of all of the student presentations, and even all of the meals prepared for everybody were fantastic.  Overall I thought it was really a fantastic experience to be around so many people involved in undergraduate research in their respective fields, and also for the opportunity to share the research I've been doing with my peers from the entire CAA.  

Jimmy  was one of the 3 physics majors representing JMU physics and astronomy undergraduate research (out of a total of 10 JMU selected undergraduates): Jimmy the astronomer was accompanied by Ethan Cummings and Thomas Hoke (both juniors) who presented their findings on some novel materials' behavior at this 10th annual CAA conference.   Here are the three of them ( ...musketeers in quest for scientific answers to how the world works):

and here are some details about their presentations, as described in the Madison Scholar
What can we say, they have their own ways of saving the world!
We heard not once that "they were excellent presenters!"

Monday, April 16, 2012

JMU Physics Helping Out

This weekend students from all around JMU worked on service projects throughout the community as part of the "The Big Event", an annual day of community service. JMU Physics students and faculty give back to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham community in many ways all year long. Some by coaching Little League baseball and others by working with kids to learn about science.

For the second year in a row, Dr. Costel Constantin has organized a NanoDays event for the community at the Explore More Discovery Museum in Harrisonburg. With the help of JMU nanoscientists Drs. Brian Augustine, Kyle Gipson, and Chris Hughes, and a team of local school teachers and JMU students, the doors to the museum were opened for free from 1:00-4:00 pm on Sunday, April 15 for nearly 150 visitors to come learn about the amazing things that happen at the scale of one billionth of a meter. The event even got covered by our local TV station. Plans are already underway for next year's event which should happen some weekend in late March or early April of 2013.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The 2012 Honors Banquet

On April 4, we held the Honors Banquet with 60 faculty, students, parents and friends in attendance. Kim ordered up an excellent selection of the good food we have here on campus. Awards were presented for the best symposium presentations, scholarships and department awards. In addition we have a strong group inducted into the Sigma Pi Sigma.

Congratulations to all. See all the pictures here.

Spring Picnic

We have finally cross over to the other side. This is now what the department picnic looks like!

Invasion of the body snatchers? A paralysis inducing food additive? A new dance? We may never know.

What we do know for sure is that a good time was had and lots of good food was well prepared by Costel Constantin.

More picture found here.

Spring Symposium 2012

The 8th annual Spring Symposium was help in Highlands room of the Festival on March 17, 2012. there was a strong set of papers presented and food and fun was had by all.

The best papers as judged by the faculty this year are:

  1. Anthony T. Chieco, "Digital Reconstruction of a Real Polydisperse Dry Foam"
  2. Anita Jo Vincent-Johnson,"Characterizing the Angular Frequency of Radiative Polaritons using Infrared Spectroscopy"
  3. Anthony Saikin, "Near Infrared Photometry of Nearby DEBRIS Candidates"
Congratulations to all participants. Everyone did a great job. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Over and Over... cast and solar viewing

Team Awestronomy's adventures again here, featuring:
Anthony (edible comets), Nathan (black holes & solar viewing), Jimmy (galaxies and sunspotter), Emil (REAL comets), Kyle (solar viewing), in no particular order, got their act together again, or we should say, over and over...cast...

OK, the weather did not cooperate with us yesterday (our planned last Saturday of March), the clouds roamed around the whole morning (sometimes quite menacingly: check out the sky in the pictures), leaving us with basically little chance to show the Sun off through our Coronado. Yep, no flares in sight this time...
Nevertheless, the Breeze (finally) got a handle of us a this event (can you spot the Breeze photographer in the crowd in the above picture?). Until the Breeze article sees the light, here are some snapshots of the goodies of the day:

The sunspotter spotted the clouds and some tree branches, which was still sort of cool... (not only little) people were still fascinated by this little simple device:

The comet making was a big success (again!), from enchanted audience by the setting up process to happy clients, I mean learners about what it takes to produce that comet tail, with both the edible models and the real -non-edible-ones:

(phufff, we were so lucky those meteorites fell on Earth right there near our Market booth and right then -- we're only there 10am-noon)

- anyway, if you're interested in the recipe, you just have to ask. we'll provide it, ~30 million times smaller than the actual one, but for sure with no delay..

wow! look at that tail...

Asteroid and crater production were also quite popular this Saturday:

.... and we also featured guest scientists with us presenting little motors powered by squishy circuits (just so you know how those gyros aboard satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope look like):

All in all, and you can go here to check out some more pictures about today's making of the comets (both types), asteroid and crater involvement, and even some close to successful picking through the telescope.

Monday, March 19, 2012

JMU Physics Students at the National APS Meeting

During the week of February 26, 2012, students John Bridstrup (second right), Anthony Chieco (second left), Nora Swisher (center), and Anita Vincent-Johnson (left), and professor Costel Constantin (right) attended the National American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting in Boston. We presented our research and got to see many other research presentations in materials and quantum related fields. There were vendors there with all kinds of fancy equipment, and Stephen Wolfram was at the Mathematica booth one afternoon! For students, they had a lounge with grad school recruiters and snacks. Along with getting to see great new physics, we also got to explore Boston (seafood lunch, riding the T, etc.). It was a motivating experience and we all had a great time. Nora Swisher

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saturday Morning Physics 2012

The 2nd annual edition of Saturday Morning Physics, Meet the Scientist is now underway. At the opening session, Dr. Adriana Banu started things off with a discussion of radioactivity. The turnout this year is lager than last year by a good bit. We had 48 attend in 2011 and this year there are 70. More photos of the opening session and the registration are available here.

This program is a big hit with the audience and fun for the faculty. See the web site for SMP for details on this years offerings.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Flares, comets, asteroids...

Yes, once again (following event1 and event2), we took Astronomy to the Market. Last Saturday was the first in the new Spring 2012 series to feature safe solar observations, edible comets, asteroid collisions, along with answers, many answers to your questions about the Universe at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market. The plan is to show off our science corner every last Saturday of the month, so be there if the Sun is up and not behind (too many) clouds!

Here are some little snippets of what were we up to:

-watching the solar flares (Nathan DiDomenico at the telescope), most probably related to the raging solar storm that hit us (the Earth) on Jan. 23 (did you feel it? there have been quite a few technical difficulties noted at the radio, as well as some internet glitches):

-the comet making: our own Julia Child (a.k.a. Anthony Saikin) is explaining how the real dirty snow balls (i.e., the real comets) and their beautiful tails can be simulated with just a little passion for cooking and, obviously, for astronomy (not to forget the liquid nitrogen though):

-in case you worried about it, we (mostly Jimmy Corcoran) did catch the Sun on our sunspotter, with and without clouds:

-our new addition to the group, Jonathan Iredell, oversaw the asteroid experiments:

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

New publication in Applied Spectroscopy

Did you know that the ability of thin oxide films to absorb infrared radiation depends on whether they "sit" on a metal, or on a piece of semiconductor, or on an insulator? Undergraduate student Anita Vincent-Johnson discovered that this is the case by creating computer simulations of the response of the thin films to the infrared radiation. The effort was accomplished under the direction of Dr. Giovanna Scarel and the results were discussed with collaborators of the University of Utah and of Howard University. The team discovered a peculiar substrate sensitive thickness where the effect is particularly evident, as illustrated in the picture on the left. The full reference is A. J. Vincent-Johnson et al., "Effects of metallic, semiconducting, and insulating substrates in the coupling involving radiative polaritons in thin oxide films", Applied Spectroscopy vol. 66 (2), pages 188-197 (2012).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

Renee Ahern, Christina Hanks, Anita Vincent-Johnson, Liz Visosky, and Nora Swisher attended the Southeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (SCUWP) at the University of Tennessee, January 12-15, 2012.  Here's what Nora says about the experience.                   

Over the long weekend we got to attend talks from successful women in physics, present our own research, interact with other women in physics over free meals, and listen to panels discussing careers, grad school, and undergraduate research.  We also got to tour Oak Ridge National Laboratory and see some of the incredible resources there, like the Spallation Neutron Source and their supercomputing facility. This is actually the 2nd year I’ve attended this conference (Anita and I went to it at Duke University in 2010). I thought both trips were great experiences. SCUWP and other women in physics events provide the opportunity for young women to network and gain motivation and support to continue physics.

It is not O.K. that there are so few women in physics in the United States. Because of societal cues given to us our whole lives, women tend to have more self-doubt in their STEM abilities, and people have internal bias against women in STEM fields whether they realize it or not (women need to higher credentials in order to be judged as equally productive as men). To fix this we need the current women in physics to stay and continue breaking the mold. We need role models and mentors for young women, and we need to keep improving the climate by continuing to have good family policies, flexible schedules, and speaking out when colleagues make inappropriate comments. As an anecdote, I have experienced some inappropriate conversations, although the men probably did not realize it was uncomfortable for me. Once during a class, the professor and students discussed a system to rate female physical attractiveness. That might not have happened in class with a different female student ratio.
Although, women have some equalities (equal pay not being one of them), women still have many stereotypes to overcome. Unfortunately some of these stereotypes are preventing physics from gaining all the contributions that women and other minorities have to offer. I know it’s a subtle and difficult problem to fix, but it should be fixed before we can call our society truly equal, developed, and rational. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Planetarium Shows, Public Star Parties and the End of the World!?

With the start of a new semester already in full swing, there is a lot going on that John C. Wells Planetarium this semester! This month the 2:30pm family show is "Legends of the Sky: Orion", while the the 3:30pm feature show is "Stars of the Pharaohs". Following each show, a live star talk featuring the Harrisonburg night sky will be presented. Both shows are FREE with seats available on a first-come, first-seated basis! You can find our full schedule of shows that will be presented this semester at the Planetarium website.

A brand new initiative we are launching this semester is monthly star parties at Astronomy Park, located in the meadow behind the Physics & Chemistry building. The first star party will take place on Friday, January 27 starting at 7pm with subsequent public observing sessions on the last Friday of each month! Since these observing sessions are weather-dependent, the decision to proceed with observing or to postpone to Saturday (our back-up night) will be made by 4pm on each day. This decision will be published on the Planetarium website, the Planetarium facebook page and via the Planetarium twitter feed. If you have never seen Jupiter with its Galilean satellites, Saturn and its majestic rings, Mars, Venus or even the Moon through a telescope, you definitely do NOT want to miss any of these star parties!

Lastly, with calendar turning the page to 2012, no doubt you have heard of the many ridiculous doomsday scenarios circulating online and in the tabloids you see at the grocery store. All these end-of-the-world prophecies, from the Mayan calendar ending, to the Earth's magnetic field suddenly reversing polarity in 2012, are all baseless and without any scientific merit. I've written my own short "Debunking 2012 Doomsday Prophecies" which you can find at the Planetarium website.

I hope to see many of you at the Planetarium or at a star party this semester!
Clear skies!

Shanil Virani
Director, John C. Wells Planetarium

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hard Times for Physics Departments Everywhere

In the APS News ,December 2011 (Volume 20, Number 11) the Back PageThe Economics of Education: Closing Undergraduate Physics Programs, by Theodore Hodapp describes a pretty dismal state of affairs for physics Departments in this country. The heart of the matter is given in this paragraph:

These recent decisions in a number of states indicate that the era, if it ever existed, of a program existing because it is unthinkable not to offer physics is over. Dominating the current academic landscape are huge numbers of business, psychology, communications, and life-sciences majors. Physics undergraduate degrees accounted for 0.88%2 of all majors in 1966. Now they account for 0.32%. Figure 1 shows how physics has fared compared to the aggregate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. The total number of physics graduates is roughly the same as it was in the late 60’s at around 6,000, but as a fraction of the undergraduate degrees it has fallen by almost a factor of three from its former standing. Further, if you normalize the data to the US population, which increases at roughly 1% per year, the data indicate that other majors have successfully lured away students who previously would have majored in physics. As a colleague recently said to me, “Who is better equipped to deal with the challenging problems that currently face our society–physics or psychology majors?” Psychology graduates increased from roughly 17,000 to 100,000 in those same four and half decades.

All pretty sobering stuff. Have a look at the full article for all the details.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Grant awarded for research on radiative polaritons

The Jeffress Memorial Trust has awarded a grant in support to the research that Dr. Scarel and her students are pursuing to understand the interaction between infrared radiation and matter. The funding will support an experiment in which infrared radiation with electric field perpendicular to the surface of a planar oxide film will excite radiative polaritons. A linearly polarized electromagnetic field, such as that used in the proposed experiment, is shown in the picture above. This experiment is expected to unambiguously correlate the absorption of infrared radiation with radiative polaritons. Dr. Scarel and her students hope that in the future the results of this research will inspire the design and development of devices to harvest and transform into electricity the infrared radiation from the sun and the atmosphere.

Jeffress Research grant awarded to Dr. Adriana Banu

Nuclear astrophysics research program at JMU is up for a good start in 2012!

The Thomas F. Jeffress and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust has approved a Jeffress Research grant of $25,000 to James Madison University in aid of Dr. Banu's project - "Studying the (alpha,p)-process in X-ray bursts using rare isotope ion beams". Dr. Banu and one of her research students, Brent Glassman, will conduct the research experiment, in collaboration with a team of scientists at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University, most probably in late spring this year. Stay tuned for the results! For more information, contact Dr. Banu at banula@jmu.edu.