Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The 2017 JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year, Mr. Jon Goetz

We had the pleasure of welcoming Mr. Jon Goetz, the 2017 James Madison University High School Physics Teacher of the Year, to James Madison University.  While he was here, we are able to talk a bit about his background, how he came to teach high school physics, and some advice he has to students, both the general populace and to prospective educators.

Mr. Jon Goetz (left) with Dr. Chris Hughes
Mr. Goetz started his undergraduate career studying aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He then continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied mechanical engineering.  Despite this, he recognized that his passions were more in education, and after a brief stint in industry, went back to pursue a degree an education from Harvard University.  In 1994, Mr. Goetz began teaching physics and mathematics at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, where he has remained to the present day. 

When it comes to teaching, Mr. Goetz states that he enjoys most the amount of creativity involved with the job, saying that, “teaching is half art, half skill…constructing pathways towards understanding.”  He describes his experience as a mix of showmanship and passion, and a job where he never sits looking at the clock.  Ultimately, he says his goal is for his students to enjoy the class, and he certainly has different ways of achieving this.  Mr. Goetz believes that learning comes from engagement, and has created a series of physics games to bring in excitement into the classroom.  Among them is a zipline challenge, where students had to design a zipline to transport objects into a bucket.  In addition, he provides students with many different real-world examples of physics so that they can see where the concepts they learn apply, be they in-class demonstrations of throwing eggs at sheets to visualize waves or videos of cats flipping around due to torque.  Mr. Goetz believes that the way in which he teaches is as important as what he teaches, and it certainly shows.

To potential educators, Mr. Goetz says that the role of a teacher has to be motivated from somewhere inside.  He also says that, while it is hard work, the job can be very rewarding, especially as the energy he puts into the job is always worthwhile.  For all students, Mr. Goetz advises to not be afraid to try something, and also to not be afraid to change their minds.  He sees that the world has much to offer, and to not see what is out there would be a disservice to oneself. 

Thank you again, Mr. Goetz!

Monday, November 13, 2017


Please check out our titles for this year's SMP:

13/Jan/18: Dr. Costel Constantin “How Can We use Waves in Nanotechnology to Understand Crystal Structures”

20/Jan/18: Prof. Chris Hughes “Waves as Art: Music and Light”

27/Jan/18: Dr. Adriana Banu A Microwave Power Source, An Accelerator Waveguide and Very Energetic Electromagnetic Waves: a case study research in experimental nuclear astrophysics at the Madison Accelerator Laboratory”

03/Feb/18: Dr. Geary Albright “Astronomy Across the Electromagnetic Spectrum”

10/Feb/18: Keigo Fukumura “What is Gravitational Wave and Why Do We Care”

Please ask your friends with high school kids to come and register as soon as possible. More details can be found at

Monday, October 30, 2017

Demystifying The Expert: Dr. Geary Albright

In order to introduce the public to science in a combination of comedy and education, Dr. Anca Constantin and Dr. Klebert Feitosa host the event Demystifying the Expert. The program brings together a guest speaker, who is an expert in their field of science, and comedians from JMU’s New & Improv’d, who attempt to “demystify the expert.” Questions, games, trivia and improvised skits all contribute to the fun as the audience learns about the expert’s work. Examples of previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The first Demystifying the Expert of the Fall Semester 2017 was held on October 5th at Taylor Down Under. The professor for this session was Dr. Geary Albright, an astrophysicist who has been at JMU since 2007, and received the title of General Education Professor of the Year for 2017.

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were Naomi Stuart, a sophomore English major, Alex Jacobs, a senior Communications and Philosophy double major, and Noah Etka a sophomore computer science major.

First, the comedians played twenty questions to try to figure out what it is that Dr. Albright studies. They quickly determined, based on a random guess from Noah Etka, that Dr. Albright did something in the realm of astronomy. Dr. Albright explained how he studies binary star systems and talked about Medusa’s eye, which is a star in the night sky that dims and brightens regularly, which modern astronomers have determined is because it is an eclipsing binary star system.

After this game was “In the News,” where the comedians guessed missing words in several news headlines related to Dr. Albright’s field of research.

The jargon game came next, which asks the comedians to try to guess the meaning of specific acronyms or jargon vocabulary from the expert’s knowledge.  They were asked to define terms such as white dwarf and red giant. The comedians did a surprisingly good job at knowing that these were terms from stars’ life cycles, though there was some debate on which part of the life cycle each of these terms came from.

During the “Two Truths and Lie” game, the comedians learned about Dr. Albright’s life outside of astrophysics.  In this section, the comedians and audience learned that Dr. Albright plays the banjo. The comedians were delighted to find out that he carries around small fish that, when put in the palm of your hand, will do something such as curl into itself, or lay flat, and based on the action of the fish it tells you the future. There is a list on the package of the fish of the actions it can make and its meanings.

Finally, the night was capped off in the “Scenes from a Hat” game, in which the comedians take out quotes from a bag and read them out loud, integrating them into their skit about a day in Dr.
Albright’s classroom. For this round, Noah portrayed Dr. Albright and Alex and Naomi were supposed to be his students coming to his office for help.

The night proved to be a success. It was entertaining, drew many laughs from the audience, but was also educational and informative.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The 2017 WINNER of the JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award

Last year our department initiated the "JMU High School Physics/Astronomy Teacher of the Year award", intended to be an award offered annually in recognition of a high school physics/astronomy teacher 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 their students' success. Thus, the nominations for the award come from former high school students who are currently enrolled at JMU in STEM disciplines and take physics courses in our department.

 We are proud to announce that 

the 2017 recipient of the JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award


Mr. Charles (Jon) Goetz
Science High School Teacher at Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, MD


The student who has nominated Mr. Goetz is Aliyah Hall, currently a physics major at JMU. Here is Aliyah in her own words describing the exceptional attributes of her nominee:
"Mr. Goetz incorporates fun techniques into his teaching skills that make students want to learn what he is teaching. His sense of humor and ability to incorporate it into the class made learning calculus and physics enjoyable for all. He is extremely educated in his field and can answer any and all questions that students ask him. He does not rest until he knows all of his students feel confident in his class, and many students prosper more in his class than in others. He is dedicated to making sure all of his students understand the curriculum, and uses entertaining techniques to make all students excited to come to his class. From creating his own physics games to showing us funny YouTube videos and having us find how physics applies to them, he makes learning math and science a fun and easy activity."

Mr. Goetz will be visiting us at JMU on Tuesday, November 7th when he will get to meet with our faculty and students, see our facilities, and receive a gift in recognition of the award. Feel free to join us in welcoming Mr. Goetz at JMU!

This fall, our second annual of this award program, we had a pretty good response from students with 10 nominations submitted (6 physics majors and 4 engineering majors).  

To all the students who took the time to put forward their nominations we send you a big THANK YOU! We truly appreciate you joining efforts in recognizing those high school teachers out there who have made a positive impact on your studies of physics and related fields!!

Introducing New JMU Physics Faculty Member Kenisha Ford

Kenisha Ford
Kenisha Ford is the newest faculty member of the James Madison University Department of Physics and Astronomy. Student blogger Yvonne Kinsella sat down with her to get to know a little more about who she is, to introduce her to the rest of the department.  

What is your area of research?

I’m doing research right now on genomics using statistical physics to determine if there are environmental factors that lead towards a propensity for certain strains of breast cancer. There’s this strain of triple negative breast cancer that has a very high mortality rate, especially amongst people of African American descent, so I’m trying to see what there is genomically that might determine that.

How did you realize that that was what you wanted to study?

I loved physics, especially the application side of it, but I didn’t necessarily want to do an applied physics program. I worked for about nine years before I went back to graduate school. During that time, I stumbled upon medical physics and I thought that was interesting, but I learned about them mostly doing calculations of dosage of radiation and I didn’t want to do that. I started thinking more about treatments instead of radiation and how you can study that and how physics can be used for that. And, I don’t think that anybody doesn’t know someone who’s been affected by cancer. I’ve known a lot of people with breast cancer, so of course, it intrigued me.

Did anyone inspire you to become a physicist?

Physics kind of happened by accident. I originally wanted to be an engineer. My mom was an electrical engineer while I was growing up. When I was about six, I had this toy — it was one of those itty bitty keyboard things — and it broke, and I’m young so I’m upset about this. So my mom looks at it, she takes the back of, tightens some things or does something, and she fixed it. So I’m thinking she fixed it because she’s an engineer, and I don’t think she thought anything of it, but that’s when I started to think that engineering was cool because they could fix regular things. The school I went to, Spellman College, didn’t have an engineering program so you have to do a dual degree with Georgia Tech, so you have to pick another major. I picked physics kind of randomly. I liked physics in high school but I only got a C, so I wasn’t super good at it, but I decided to try it. So I ended up loving physics after all and never went on to the engineering part of that program.

How did you start working at JMU?

As a graduate student at Howard last year I happened to go to the library one day while they were having a fair, so I started talking to people and I met Dr. David Owusu-Ansah and we started to talk about the preparing future faculty program at JMU. I just asked him what it was and he said that they just try to bring people in to give them an opportunity to teach while they’re working on their dissertation.  He said they usually have people in fields like sociology and psychology, and I said “Oh, you’ve never had physics?” because when people talk about programs like this they almost never bring up physics.  So he ended up asking the physics department if they were interested, and he called me back a couple weeks later and it turned out that Dr. Hughes was interested in seeing if they could do something like that.

What are some of your hobbies outside of physics?

I love music. Just buying it, listening to it, singing, telling people about a new artist that I just heard. In the spring and summer, softball becomes my life. I love pool and bowling but I don’t get to play either of those often enough. I also love shopping which, as a student, I don’t get to do very often. I’m also a big DIY person. When I first bought my house it was a fixer-upper, and I had issues with my contractor, so after he finished the big stuff I took on a lot of the small stuff. Since then, every year I’m like “Oh maybe I’ll change these floors, or maybe I’ll change these lights,” that sort of stuff.

Any other fun facts?

There was one time that I got to hike the Grand Canyon. We camped down there for a few days and hiked the whole twenty miles or something.