Monday, September 18, 2017

New Student Blogger and... Hello from JMU's Society of Physics Students

We will continue to bring you news about our department this year with the great help of our students as well.  We have a new student blogger this 2017-2018 year, Theodore Chu, a sophomore seen before busy working in the soon to be commissioned Madison Accelerator Laboratory, while  Yvonne Kinsella, now a senior, will return with new interesting developments inside and outside the physics world. 

Theodore (seen smiling here and pretty much everywhere) is  actively involved in the social life and student organizations associated with our department, and he takes this opportunity to introduce to you to our department's section of the Society of Physics Students, with a big Hello: 

With the third week of this semester having passed, hopefully we’ve found ourselves back into a steady rhythm for our coursework and we know exactly what extra-curriculars we have and we’ve set aside some time for our own personal affects as well.  That’s the goal, at least. 

Doesn’t sound like you?  That’s perfectly fine!  Normal, even! That’s where the Society of Physics Students (SPS) comes in!

Our primary goal is to help you, as a physics major, figure out how you’re going to balance your life and its many aspects.  Whether it’s help figuring out some tougher integrals or physics solutions, how you can get involved in the department, or just giving you some people who you can talk to, SPS is here to help you with whatever concerns you may have.  There are a few things we do that are designed to get you more involved in our group.

First, we have a mentor/mentee program that helps you get started getting to know some of your peers in the department by pairing you with another more experienced physics major who might be able to provide some insight on how to be successful in the major.  We also try to assign pairs based on common interests, so you’ve got some things to talk about right off the bat! 

Secondly, we host a number of social events for you to get to know your peers a little better.  Some nights, we’ll hit the town and go for bowling, roller-skating or trivia; other nights, we’ll have movie and game nights right in the physics building!  Every semester, we also host a camping trip amongst SPS, where you can spend a weekend away from college to take your mind off things.  These will be announced periodically throughout the semester, so watch for our e-mails!

Another key part to SPS and the department in general is our involvement in outreach programs towards people outside the sciences.  We have a range of opportunities to get involved in what we love, and we’re more than happy to share our knowledge with anyone who is interested!  Among these events are robotics workshops, science (and comedy) shows, as well as public star-gazing and planetarium shows!  Whether you’re a student here at JMU trying to get involved with hosting these events, or a young mind trying to discover more about the world around you, we can’t wait to see you here!

Before we close, I should mention our current board of executives and how to contact them:

Alexandra Goodis, President

Noah Ripchick, Vice President

Christopher Jackson, Secretary

Theodore Chu, Treasurer

Taylor Hodges, Education Ambassador

Parker Given, Social Media Coordinator

We’ll send out e-mails about anything that might be of interest to you as a physics major, whether this be information about internships, tips for taking the GRE, and any upcoming conferences that you can attend.  Keep an eye out for these, since they’re great opportunities that we’re sending directly to you!  All in all, we can’t wait to see what this semester has in store, and SPS has a number of fun events in store for you all!  Drop by the physics lounge if you ever have any questions, and don’t hesitate to shoot us an email at!  Also, Find, Follow, and Like us at the usual social media outlets. 

Together, to the stars we go!

-- by Theodore Chu

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The new and the old of this new beginning

With the days a tad chilly and breezier than we expected, and after already a full week of classes, we welcome the new freshmen and by now experienced sophomores, juniors and seniors physics majors.  Some enter their first steps into the physics world, while some are getting ready to step outside the ivy towers and blend into the real world.  It will all happen with increasing confidence that more is known about how everything works, because they have inquired into it.

Here is this year's PandA (Physics and Astronomy) team of friends and helpers (left to right):

Front row (sitting): Kenisha Ford, Lynn Lucatorto, Kim Emerson, Chris Hughes, Sean Scully, Klebert Feitosa

Back row: Jason Sterlace, Masoud Kaveh-Baghbadorani, Jacob Brown, Mark Mattson, Harold Butner, Ioana Niculescu, Scottie Pendleton, Gabriel Niculescu, Geary Albright, Costel Constantin, Anca Constantin, Tehani Finch, Giovanna Scarel, Keigo Fukumura, Kevin Giovanetti, Adriana Banu, Harry Hu

We now stare at the specter of the teaching and research we planned for the 2017-2018 year and the life beyond it.  We, the faculty, are eager to get to know you all better every day, whether that is through the derivations and explanations of physical phenomena, the quiz questions, the labs and homework sets we devise especially for you, or through the hall conversations we end up luring
you in, and therefore pausing you from your way to whatever your life takes you at that moment. 

We are, as usual, pretty psyched to keep you posted about our busy schedules, about why, what, and how we learn about state-of-the-art technologies and about the basics of physics needed pretty much everywhere you turn your head to, that we are pursuing in our labs.   

It continues to be a blast!

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Make a nomination for the 2017 JMU High School Physics/Astronomy Teacher of the Year Award!!

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is now accepting nominations for the 2017 JMU High School Physics/Astronomy Teacher of the Year Award!!

The award will be given to a high school physics/astronomy teacher nominated by former students who are currently enrolled at JMU in STEM majors.

The nominee should be an individual who exhibits exceptional dedication to teaching physics/astronomy and has an outstanding record of going above and beyond in providing education and guidance necessary for the success of the students.

 NOMINATION DEADLINE: Friday, September 29, 2017


Monday, June 26, 2017

New accelerator lab energizes nuclear research at JMU

'This is where you come in'

New accelerator lab energizes nuclear research at JMU

image: /_images/madisonscholar/2017-MAL-workshop-post-3.jpg
SUMMARY: The laboratory will be capable of performing low energy experiments for a range of purposes, including nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, nuclear engineering, nuclear forensics and homeland security.

When you look at stars through a telescope, you only see a little, you can only measure a few isotopes. To better understand how stars create all naturally occurring elements, you need some knowledge of what goes on inside them, “and that’s where you come in,” Professor Art Champagne told a gathering of researchers last week at a workshop to explore the research possibilities at a new physics lab at JMU.
The Madison Accelerator Laboratory, located on the first floor of the newly renovated Madison Hall, will swing into full operation this fall. More than 10 years in the making, the laboratory features a medical electron linear accelerator, a 140 keV X-ray imaging machine and standard particle detection instrumentation. The linear accelerator, purchased from Rockingham Memorial Hospital when it moved to new digs, is a versatile magnetron unit that can provide electron and photon beams with energies up to 15 MeV.
Champagne, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society, was one of 10 speakers to address the two-day workshop that included researchers from universities in Greece and Turkey that also have medical accelerators. While other labs are also investigating how stars work, there's always room for more, Champagne said. No one facility will be able to answer all the questions, "we need complimentary facilities, we need to have a very broad approach to some of these problems."
Four people in the lab, one standing off to the left of the acclerator machine wearing a white lab coat and holding a clipboard; and the other three wokring around the large machine.
The laboratory will be capable of performing low energy experiments for a range of purposes, including nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, nuclear engineering, nuclear forensics and homeland security. Much broader applications in a variety of fields, such as accelerator physics, medical physics, materials science, environmental geochemistry, geology, biology, astronomy, archaeology and art history were discussed at the workshop, with the aim of forging possible collaborations.
Adriana Banu, associate professor of physics and astronomy at JMU and one of the leaders in establishing the lab, said convenient access to do beam research will be one of the greatest advantages of MAL. Such research now requires making reservations at places like Jefferson National Laboratory in Newport News or the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory in Durham, North Carolina. Those reservations are hard to get and add pressure to do the research in the time allotted. Students also will benefit by working in a facility with an accelerator where they will get training on working with equipment that produces radiation and on running the equipment, which will prepare them for a wide range of careers.

madison scholar logo and title on field of gold
Published: Friday, June 23, 2017
Last Updated: Monday, June 26, 2017

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Countdown to the Workshop on the Science, Instrumentation and Education Program at the Madison Accelerator Laboratory!

 For more details see:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Congratulations to our Physics and Astronomy Class of 2017

Our graduates should be proud of everything they have accomplished and will accomplish in the next chapter of their lives.  The physics degree is one of the most challenging one, but these kids hung on to their dreams, and made them true.   They survived and had tons of fun in the meantime, and their finish line is crossed now.  Their degree may be their latest and greatest accomplishment, but it is also the grand opening of the door to a new beginning.  

It rained with cats and dogs, but look at these smiles, who couldn't care less about those drench-y drops:

Smack in the middle you should spy our newly minted department head: Chris Hughes.  Dr. Hughes is of course well-known to the JMU community, and was selected for this new leadership role from a national pool of applicants.  During his interview, he shared a compelling vision for the future of physics and astronomy on campus, including strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse community of faculty and students in the department, advancing the department’s role in producing physical science teachers to address pervasive shortages in the state, pursuing opportunities for collaborative engagements through the new Madison Accelerator Lab, and continuing to grow the department’s national reputation for innovation in the integration of teaching and research. 
It feels like we all graduated this year, to a new era we are certainly looking forward to.

We take this opportunity to let you know about a grand series of awards that we celebrated last month, even if it includes some of our majors who have not walked the stage this year, but will do so next year (a.k.a, juniors).  Maybe this announcement is in fact not too late, as some of these listings will explain the galore of colors hanging on top of the purple on many of our graduates: 

     Catherine A. Witherspoon
     Nicholas J. Duncan
     Ian C. Davenport
Justin D. Leas
Zachary J. Marinelli

Margaret C. Blackman
    Don Chodrow Scholarship
       Nicholas J. Duncan
       Rodney T. Hodges
       Rodney T. Hodges
       Kaitlyn D. Porter
Physics and Astronomy SYMPOSIUM AWARDS
1st Place – Zachary P. Schuhmacher
2nd Place – Ian C. Davenport
3rd Place – Jason M. Ferguson
     Maxwell M. Cannon
     Ian C. Davenport
     Nicholas J. Duncan
     Justin D. Leas
     Joseph J. LoPreto
     Aaron C. Midkiff
     Zachary J. Marinelli

We congratulate all and every single one of you, Class of 2017!  Keep us posted with all of your next steps.  We are always happy to hear from you. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

JMU Physics Shines at the APS March Meeting

The national APS March Meeting was held in New Orleans, LA from March 13th-17th this year. A total of nine presentations during the conference were listed with authors and/or presenters from the James Madison Universty Department of Physics & Astronomy.

JMU physics senior Jacob Parkhouse was one of the listed authors for a talk titled “Impact and interaction of granular streams in waters.”   

JMU physics professor Dr. Costel Constantin was included as an author alongside chemistry professor Dr. Ashleigh Baber and chemistry student Will Andahazy for the poster, “Surface Plasmon Peak Resonance Discovered in Sulfuric Acid Treated PEDOT-PSS Conductive Polymers.”   

JMU physics professor Dr. Marcelo Dias presented his talk on “Cracking Sheets into Shapes: Linear actuators from non-linear crack behavior.”
JMU physics professors Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Klebert Feitosa presented their poster on the Demystifying the Expert events they hold here at JMU. The Demystifying the Expert events have been featured on this blog as well and can be read about here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Dr. Feitosa also gave a talk, “Stress distributions and bubble rearrangements in a compressed bubble raft,” with physics student Nicholas Albright also listed as an author.
Junior physics major Yvonne Kinsella presents her poster at the APS March Meeting.

Two students from the JMU Department of Physics and Astronomy also presented at the March Meeting.  On Wednesday afternoon, junior Yvonne Kinsella presented her poster “Adhesion of Au Thin Films on PMMA and Other Substrates.”  The following morning, senior Nick Sipes presented his talk “Selective Electroless Nickel Plating on PMMA using Chloroform Pre-Treatment.”   Both students work in Dr. Chris Hughes’ lab, so both presentations included him as an author. Additionally, the former presentation included Dr. Harry Hu for his help on instrumentation.

With so many presentations at the March Meeting with JMU authors, it is clear that the Department of Physics and Astronomy is not only doing great research but is doing a great job at getting students involved in research opportunities, as well as giving them opportunities to present at professional conferences.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Fun-Filled Finale (until next year!)

Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Feitosa host the event Demystifying the Expert to introduce the public to science in a combination of comedy and education. The program involves an “expert” in some field of science, and a few local comedians who get to “demystify the expert”. The demystification involves questions, games, trivia and improvised skits, all of which provide the audience with plenty of laughs. Examples of previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

The second Demystifying the Expert of 2017, and final show for the 2016-2017 school year, saw JMU comedy group “New and Improv’d” members Shelby Imes, Alex Jacobs, and Knick McKay try to demystify Professor Ilarion Melnikov. For those who do not know, Dr. Melnikov is a member of JMU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The event started off with a game of 20 questions, with the comedians asking the expert yes/no questions.  Things got a little off-track as the comedians started fighting for “points” for being answered “yes”, leading to question unrelated to Melnikov’s research such as, “Do you empathize with the chemistry-haters in the crowd?” Alex argued that only getting points for an answer of “yes” seemed like a flawed scoring system, but that may be because Shelby held the lead throughout the game of 20 questions.

The members of New and Improv’d figured it out in the end, however, deducing that Dr. Melnikov is in fact a theoretical physicist who studies string theory. The hosts, Dr. Constantin and Dr. Feitosa, asked Melnikov to give a short elevator speech about his work. Dr. Melnikov explained that, “It’s very simple”, as he went from questioning what makes up quarks and leptons to how gravity works. Melnikov explained how string theory works for gravity, and introduces the particle “gravitons”. Alex and Knick, attempting to simplify string theory, exclaimed, “So the electrons, gravitons, Megatrons, megaladons, Pok√©mons, Digimons, Bakugons, are all held together by one rope.” Of course, this wasn’t QUITE right, but the one minute marker for the elevator speech was already a distant memory by this point and it was time for the next game.

The second game, The StringNews, saw the comedians attempting to fill in the blanks to complete article titles related to Dr. Melnikov’s area of study. The first headline tripped up the members of New and Improv’d, who thought “The Curious Case of the Quantum Theory of [Blank]” was completed with the word “Strings”. In fact, the missing word was “Humor”, as the article compared the way people interpret jokes to the process of quantum superposition.

The second article title, “The Strange [Blank Blank] of String Theory”, was finished by inserting the words, “Second Life”. Attempting to guess what the article was about, Knick claimed, “String theory is two-timing on his family, has a second family, a second life.” The audience had a good chuckle at this, and laughed even more when Melnikov replied to Knick, “That’s not too far off.” The article, it turned out, was about string theory in the field of math, as well as numerous branches of physics like condensed matter and quantum gravity.

The third game of the night was the jargon game. Shelby, Alex, and Knick all had very different opinions of what the first acronym, SUSY, meant. Alex quickly SUSY had to stand for Susie Q. Shelby tried breaking the acronym down into two parts, "Sus" and "Y". She explained “Sus” was slang for lame, but Alex pointed out it was actually short for the word “suspect”. Shelby decided to focus instead on the “Y” at this point, which she believed clearly stood for “Why can’t we figure this out?” Knick took a different approach, believing SUSY “is the name of the first quantum string; they put a collar on it, took it for walks, fed it, etc., and after 13 long, happy years they euthanized it.” In a surprise twist, SUSY actually stands for “supersymmetry”, which deals with the partners of different particles (for example, quarks have super partners called squarks).

The next acronym led to some confusion, and much laughter, as the comedians thought the acronym “LST” was “LSD”. After that was cleared up, the members of New and Improv’d quickly managed to get to the answer, Little String Theory, which Dr. Melnikov explained to the audience briefly.

The following game, “2 Truths and a Lie”, helped the comedians and the audience to learn about more about expert outside of his work. In the first round, Shelby decided it must be true that Dr. Melnikov plays electric guitar and had his own Punk/Rock band named Culture of Blame, because electric guitars obviously go with string theory. The members of New and Improv’d correctly deduced that Melnikov never met President George H. W. Bush, and then immediately refocused on his punk/rock band. Dr. Melnikov explained the name of the band came from when he and his bandmate Matt lived with some guy who couldn’t wash dishes. When they confronted him, he said “I’m sick of this culture of blame in this house!” It sounded like a great band name, so they went with it. Dr. Melnikov even sang part of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” for the audience, his favorite cover song from his time in the band.

The second round saw the comedians miss their mark, claiming that Ilarion Melnikov never made the pedestrian journey of sixty stadia from Delphi to the Corycian Cave. They quickly figured out the real lie, though, was the claim that Dr. Melnikov was interviewed on a German TV show about string theory. Melnikov explained that there are many string theorists in Germany, so there was no way he would have been interviewed.

The coup de grace of the even was the skit at the end. Using movie lines, book lines, and quotes from famous physicists, as well as their own creativity, the comedians of New and Improv’d had to act out a day in Dr. Melnikov’s lab. Things got off to an odd start, as Shelby attempted to drop out of Melnikov’s class (while Alex portrayed Dr. Melnikov), and instead ended up “assisting him with the gravitrons”. This involved hand gestures similar to kneading, and the occasional exclamation that, “The gravitons are escaping!”

The comedians had some excellent timing on their lines from the hat, such as Shelby trying to calm down Alex and Knick’s heated debate by proclaiming, “The universe doesn’t care what makes theoretical physicists happy.” The group’s odd day in the offense finally reached its climax with Alex and Knick again bumping heads, as Alex (portraying Melnikov) shouted that there is no Nirvana in string theory. Knick countered that Alex couldn’t know that, and Alex was forced to agree. As a result of this, Knick claimed the office as his own and ran away to live happily with Shelby.

In response to all of this, Dr. Melnikov could only say that it looked exactly like a normal day at the office.

Overall, this was a great, fun-filled finale to the 2016-2017 school year’s Demystifying the Expert event. As a quick reminder, we are working on editing the audio for all shows of this year to have them soon on Soundcloud.