Loading...

Follow JMU Physics & Astro Blog on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid
Being able to breathe a few steps away from the largest steerable thing on the surface of Earth is something an astronomy minor would not say not to, especially if that thing is a telescope which has the power to answer mankind's biggest questions.  

We are talking here about the Robert C. Bird Green Bank Telescope, the site of which (The Green Bank Observatory, or GBO) our astronomy minors had the chance to visit and explore.     Eighteen of our students minoring in astronomy were accompanied by four faculty members for an overnight trip there, where they got the chance to observe with GBO's 40-foot teaching telescope and participate in quite a number of other educational programs.

Overall, the experience seemed to be overwhelmingly positive: one might not get the chance to see so many smiles and hear "wow"s from physics, computer science, or engineering majors, all while learning about the our host galaxy, Milky Way, through their own observations of Hydrogen emission.

Far away from hot O and B-type stars, the hydrogen in space is in the ground (i.e., lowest energy) state.   However, when the spin of the electron flips from being parallel to anti-parallel with the spin of the proton, there is a tiny energy difference that is emitted at the wavelength of 21 cm (or a frequency of 1420.4 MHz).   While a hydrogen atom can wait on average a few million years before it undergoes this transition (YES, it is this rare!), the large amount of hydrogen gas makes this particular emission one of the most prominent and easiest to detect with radio telescopes.

The 40-foot spectrometer allows us to detect radio waves from this particular transition by
blocking (filtering) out all of the waves but the ones coming at this exact frequency.  This 21-cm line radiation provides the best way to map the structure of the Galaxy (note: for astronomers, Milky Way is the only galaxy with capital "G").

Here is an example of detection of (the center of the) Milky Way's emission at 21 cm with the 40-foot telescope's spectrometer. The red line is a calibration measure, while
the black line records the data, i.e., the intensity (in Jansky units) as a function of frequency.  The two  strong peaks at the left side of the spectrum show detection of HI at two different frequencies: the strongest peak is located at 1419.5 MHz, and the other at 1485 MHz, depicting two different clouds of Hydrogen emitting the 21-cm transition that is redshfited (smaller frequency, or longer wavelength), implying that the detected Hydrogen is moving away from us (while rotating in the disk of the Galaxy).   The peak at the far right depicts an artificially created signal of 500 Jy, for calibration purposes.

Multiple data sets from eight groups of students, acquired during the night, were collectively analyzed the next morning.   After not much debate, there was a pretty good agreement that the data shows strong evidence that Milky Way has the shape of a flat disk, that is rotating counterclockwise.

Here are some of the students' thoughts about this trip, with some cool, funny, or downright amazing things they have learnt:

* Mary Ogborn & Ebony Williams (physics majors):  This trip really illustrated aspects of radio astronomy that I wasn’t aware of before. Although I was aware of radio interference, I was not aware of how sensitive these telescopes could be to various sources [...] The control room was also impressive, as it was copper-insulated, in order to keep in the radio waves coming from all the computers and machines. [...] it was interesting to step into the past and see how the original radio astronomers operated these huge telescopes. I can’t imagine having to manually dial in the declinations, change the frequency every second by pushing the mark button, and having the chart reader draw out the peaks without any other form of labelling. [...] I now understand how observatories in the past would hire people to be ‘computers’ before the advent of computers.

*Ryan Ferrell (physics major):  I did not expect to be able to extract this much information from the data which made me appreciate how much information can be brought out of even just a little data.[...] I learned was how many common things cause radio interference. I knew previously that most electronics caused radio interference, however I did not know that signals from modern electronics are a billion times stronger than the radio waves that the GBT was measuring from the Milky Way. [...] I never knew the GBT was the largest radio telescope in the world or that the Drake Equation had been thought of there. [...] I was very surprised to find the control center so close and surrounded in a giant Faraday Box. 


* Tanna Walters (engineering major) & Brandon O'Neal (physics major):  This trip to Greenbank Observatory has taught us a good bit about the actual ways in which the data is collected and how the hardware works.  GBT actually has a clam-shaped dish and an arm that is off-center that collects the radio waves. The purpose for this is to allow for the collection of more radio waves as opposed to parabolic telescopes that have the receiver in the middle of the dish, blocking a significant portion of the incoming radio waves.   [...] we learned just how sensitive the telescopes are to interference (RFI). Even taking a picture with our phones could interfere and ruin astronomers’ data all over the world. 

* Tom Gagne (computer science major) & Kris Pickens (physics major):  We learned the remarkable fact that if a cell phone were placed as far away as Mars, it would still outshine the brightest distant radio sources by several orders of magnitude.  So we had to turn them off when out among the telescopes. We also learned that a shipbuilding company built one of the telescopes and put an enormous ball-bearing in it. The ball-bearing was so large that the bridges had to be fortified along the path of the train that took it there. 

* Cameron Kelahan (computer science major):  For the first time, I was able to operate a radio telescope and perform radio astronomy. I learned how to operate a 40 foot radio telescope, the equipment that goes along with it, the meaning and importance behind the 21 cm line, and how the shape of the Milky Way was originally discovered. I also got an idea of what it may be like to work at an observatory from talking with [GBT operator].  His job seems very interesting and also challenging! 12 hour shifts are something one can get used to, but there is also a lot of responsibility that goes into operating a MASSIVE TELESCOPE!  The overall experience [...] allowed me to strengthen friendships with classmates and possibly future colleagues while learning with them about something we all have a passion for.  





  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

            Kicking off the spring Demystifying series on February 28, 2018, Drs. Constantin and Feitosa and JMU’s New & Improv’d hosted Dr. Kendra Letchworth-Weaver (who typically goes by Dr. Weaver) from the Department of Physics and Astronomy.  She completed her Bachelor of Science in physics at the College of William and Mary in 2007, and went on to pursue her Doctorate in physics at Cornell University in 2015.  After this, she worked at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, and is now a first year assistant professor at JMU. 

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Caroline Buddendorf, a sophomore theatre major whose favorite thing about theater is how active she gets to be, Ethan Shultze, a junior SMAD major who really hates The Incredibles II, and Noah Etka, a junior ISAT major who’s really into NASA. 

            The night kicked off with the twenty questions game, where each comedian took turns asking Dr. Weaver yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  Our comedians went on a rocky start, but their questions were moving them towards the area of chemistry.  However, when asked if she studied chemistry, Dr. Weaver was only able to say that she did so half-way.  They did narrow down the field to something with materials chemistry, and in the end, our comedians deduced that Dr. Weaver worked in materials physics.

            After carefully dancing around this field, Dr. Weaver explained to everyone just what made materials physics different from materials chemistry and its applications with her elevator pitch.  She told us how, while some areas of both disciplines focus on characteristics of materials themselves, her work focused more on the interfaces between solids and liquids.  In particular, what makes these interfaces interesting to her is how they play with the properties of both solids and liquids with wildly different interactions in statistical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics, all of which give a potential for many different possibilities of material property expression.  And how Dr. Weaver studies these interfaces is through the use of computer simulations, where she’ll put in some descriptions of a material that she could manufacture and then have the computer then produce information that she can extrapolate to determine what qualities this new molecule will exhibit.  Her work applies to renewable energy applications, in particular like batteries, and she also explained that cell phone fires due to poor interface design.

            The second game was the headliner game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Weaver’s research.  From the get-go, our comedians were thrown a curveball, as the first word was actually cats!  From the headline provided by the Washington Post, “Cats are both solid and liquid, according to science,” for their propensity to have a defined shape when they want, but also occupy the space of containers that they were put into.  Dr. Weaver had a quip that showed us how these related to work, noting that since cats did this, they were very much like the nanoparticles that she works with.  The second word had a more obvious link to Dr. Weaver’s work, and was water.  As it happens, companies are working on developing materials that can act like sponges to extract water from the air and release it on demand, helping to solve a water scarcity we face.  The final word, supercomputer, gave us harrowing visions of a potential Terminatoror Blade Runner scenario, with the headline stating that IBM’s new supercomputer is not only capable of taking orders, but also arguing against them!  As Dr. Weaver explained, supercomputers are being used in order to grow new knowledge out of current data and make their own decisions with neural networks, and this could be applied to materials data as well.  It remains to see if we will reach the technological singularity, but as of current, we aren’t quite there yet.
            
Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms or terms mean in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians learned about DFT, density functional theory, which is a way to approximate how packed electrons are in a certain material, and the reason for this is because if we know how packed they are, we can start to discover some more properties of how they will interact with each other and with external materials.  The second group of words showed us all how scientists have some fun in their labs, with the words being opium and pot!  Our comedians were able to deduce after some giggles that pot meant potential, like electrical potentials, but opium was harder – Dr. Weaver explained that Opium was a name for what is called an optimized pseudopotential generating code, which creates a stand-in electrical potential based off of the electrons surrounding an atom. 


            Finally, the audience got to learn more about Dr. Weaver outside of her work as a computational materials physicist with the two truths and a lie game.  First, we learned that not only is Dr. Weaver a talented physicist, but she also used to be very involved with the performing arts as well!  She participated in theatre in high school, and also did a lot of tap dance before her college years.  Not believing that Dr. Weaver could tap dance, our comedians dared her to prove it, and much to everyone’s delight, she did!  In the second round, we learned that Dr. Weaver’s path to being a computational physicist was lined by a broken spectrometer (a very useful and expensive tool in many science laboratories) that she had dropped, and that her old babysitter ended up becoming someone she would publish papers with!

            The final planned event of the night was the improvised skit with physics-themed quotes from pop culture like Alice and Wonderland and the Warriors novel series by Erin Hunter, with a new title “The Game of the Fortune Cookie!”  In a first for Demystifying history, Dr. Weaver joined our comedians in the troupe, and what a skit it was!  Our group were engaged in the office hours of Professor Ethan’s Computer Violence 101 class, and entered a theological discussion of the toxic nature of water, the Old Testament divinity of computers, and a strange venture into a live student burial to ascend to a higher plane of existence. 

            We’d like to thank everyone for a great start to Demystifying the Expert’s spring run, and a very warm welcome to Dr. Weaver at James Madison University!






  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Last week, Prof. Anca Constantin joined 14 other astronomers from the American Astronomical Society for a crash course on science policy and meetings with congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.   

Why was she there? 

By now, I have designed and implemented a variety of astronomy and physics outreach events, which made me so painfully aware of how poorly communicated or received are our achievements, our motivation, and the need(s) for continuing our work.  I wanted to be able to back up my claims to my students that I do for them more than just teaching
science or mentoring them towards a successful career in the sciences.  In a time when billions of voices are screaming into the void of social media platforms, and no one seems to listen to anyone else, it felt quite momentous to sit down and have face to face conversations with the congressional offices.  I want to make sure that we keep inspiring people to look up.


My studies employ multi-wavelength analyses of galaxies with actively accreting supermassive black holes in their centers.  My investigations are pushing back the frontier of what we know about connecting the black hole accretion phenomenon to circum-nuclear star formation in what appears to be the faintest actively accreting galactic nuclei.   I am currently developing a novel statistical analysis of multi-wavelength properties of the galaxies that host water maser emission, with the goal of significantly improving their detection rate, which is crucial for an accurate determination of the Hubble constant, for characterization of dark energy, and thus, for constraining the fate of the universe.   My expertise in manipulating optical and infrared spectroscopic data allow me to tackle pioneering identifications of black hole accretion activity in galaxy mergers, and thus in finding binary black hole accreting systems, which are imperatively needed as a laboratory for testing the loudest gravitational wave events in the Universe, and thus for testing general relativity on cosmological scales.  Further success in all of these research aspects are intimately related to recommendations in the current New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics for augmentation of the NSF’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants, and for enhancements to astronomical observing facilities like GBTALMA, and hopefully soon JWST.    

What is a Congressional Visit Day like?

We started the day by stepping in a congressional hearing titled America in Space: Future Visions, Current Issues (in Rayburn building of the House of Representatives), where one of the witnesses was Peggy Whitson, the first female astronaut to command the International Space Station twice, and the record holder for the longest single space flight by a woman (289 days, 5 hours and 1 minute).  We had only a few minutes to spare here, before we would
start our marathon of nine meetings, but it was enough to
hear a politician say, with great conviction that: "If we want America to lead with a visionary and effective space program, we must be willing to commit the resources and funding stability to achieve it." So I'd say, that was a pretty good start of the day. 

During the day, I visited (together with my team of three other astronomers) the offices of Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, and Representative Cline (VA), Senator
Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, and Representative Hoyer (MD), Senator Markey, Senator Warren, and Representative Lynch (MA).  This only entailed seven miles of walking and climbing lots of stairs up and down the Senate and the House of Representative buildings. 


We were warmly welcomed in each office, and the staffers were all polite and professional.  Many of them had no personal experience in science beyond high school and maybe a college course, but took great interest in our conversations,  and it was heartening to realize (or remember?) that the politicians in Washington are just people too.  Rep. Cline made a
special effort to meet us, in between hearings, and in the hallway, and he and one of his staff members seemed eager to hear about how we use astronomy here at JMU as one of the most innovative training grounds for the future science and industry experts, whether for the future of our VA district, or the the rest of the world.


We talked with the staff of our congressional representatives about federal research grants, which support many scientists, both the established ones and the budding ones (our students). We discussed the need for adequate resources in order to retain young scientists in astronomy.   Many of us science faculty, at JMU or any other university, feel burned out from applying for grant after grant with success rates less than 15 percent (which leaves many "excellent" rated projects unfunded), and from hearing that the (proposed) budget cuts might not allow for the building of that amazing new telescope WFIRST that the whole organization of astronomers envisioned as the number one priority, which will open the skies for us, literally hundreds of times better resolution and signal than Hubble SpaceTelescope did for us already. And that is mind-boggling.   

Whether or not we need a reminder, it remains true that we are all alone, yet together, sailing through this unique and largely unknown universe of ours, on our spaceship Earth.  I came home more determined than ever to share all I know and I want to find out about the Universe, with whomever will listen.




  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 


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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

On November 8, 2018, Drs. Constantin and Feitosa welcomed our final guest for the 2018 term, Dr. Kevin Caran from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as our guest expert for the evening.  He received his Bachelors Degree of Science in Chemistry from Cologne University and his doctoral degree from Emory University.  After a post-doctoral position at Georgia Tech, Dr. Caran came to JMU, where he has remained since 2003.

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Abigail, a sophomore theatre major whose fish acts like a dog, Kat, a freshman SMAD major who jumps out of planes for fun, and Noah Etka, a junior ISAT major who spends most of his time explaining to potential employers what ISAT is.  

The night kicked off with the twenty questions game, where each comedian took turns asking Dr. Caran yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  Our comedians were scattered in their questions, unable to deduce much from Dr. Caran beyond how he didn’t study plants, animals, or humans.  However, near the end, our comedians were able to deduce that Dr. Caran studied chemistry, and from there were quickly able to discover that he was an organic chemist.



As he explained with open ended questions, there are many different fields of chemistry, from organic to analytical to materials, and he also explained that organic chemistry studies molecules based off of the element carbon.  In particular, he was involved with a process called organic synthesis, or the creation of new molecules that have never been created before. 

In his elevator pitch, where he gives a brief overview of his work and how it relates to the greater world, Dr. Caran explained that the types of molecules that he is interested in creating are amphiphiles, which have unique antibacterial properties that are able to kill bacteria in ways that most antibiotics currently do not.  Unlike most orally taken antibiotics, the molecules that Dr. Caran tries to manufacture are polymers, long carbon chains that form the basis for, in his study, plastics.  These plastics are potential key players in the fight against antibiotic resistance, as he says that if we are able to mass produce these plastics efficiently, we can create materials that bacteria cannot grow on at far lower costs.  The current regime utilizes many rarer metals like silver and costly to manufacture plastics, so if these materials are cost effective, they may be more accessible worldwide.

The second game was the headliner game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Caran’s research.  Here, our comedians were very quick to guess the correct words, and the articles in question mainly talked about antibacterial properties, from the efficacy of current antibiotic medications to the solutions through antimicrobial plastics and shapes of these molecules that give them these resistant properties.  Dr. Caran also mentioned that the place where cheap antimicrobial implements were most needed was in the medical industry, where cross-contamination is a very dangerous scenario, especially if so-called ‘super-bugs’ with antibacterial resistances were to be spread. 

The comedians and Dr. Caran briefly discussed what a day in the lab looked like, with Dr. Caran also mentioning his collaborations with the biology and physics departments at JMU, including with our own host, Dr. Feitosa, in the manufacturing of molecules.  This came into play when he explained that his work involved taking current molecules, analyzing their shapes and trying to see how to edit them to produce different qualities that we may want, including antimicrobial properties.  With biology, he is able to test their efficacy, and with physics, he is able to see just how these molecules can be created more effectively.

Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms or terms mean in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians learned about colloids, or systems where different items are mixed very finely, and how it is used in Dr. Caran’s work to see how molecules hold on to each other.  We also learned some of acronyms used, such as MIC, or the minimum inhibition concentration, or the lowest concentration of wasted materials used to produce Dr. Caran’s molecules, and his favorite acronym to say, SOPAR, or the sum of pi bonds and rings in a molecule.

Finally, the audience got to learn more about Dr. Caran outside of his life as a chemist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that Dr. Caran’s father had a family dog, Jilli, who was able to play poker to great effect!  And, we also learned that Dr. Caran not only plays guitar, but also writes songs about chemistry to help his students remember the material, such as his ‘Alkane Song,’ which we got to hear in its entirety!

The final planned event of the night was the improvised skit with quotes from chemistry related pop culture like Back to the Future and Medicine Man.  We had the typical student-professor scenario where students in Dr. Caran’s lab are trying to clarify some point in their work, but eventually goes into a sing-off between the students and Dr. Caran.  As an unexpected encore presentation, Dr. Caran sang his song ‘Fishy, Oh Fishy,” for us, and the comedians and even some of the audience members joined in during the chorus!

We’d like to thank you all for a great fall showcase of Demystifying the Expert, and we hope to see you at our next show in the spring on Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 7:00 PM at Taylor Down Under! 



 

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 


        On November 6, 2018, we had the honor of hosting the 2018 JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year, Mr. Nicholas Leonard, for a day to tour our department and talk about his experience as  a physics educator with faculty, students, and even alumni!

         Mr. Leonard received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2002.   Before becoming a teacher, he worked at a semiconductor processing facility.  After leaving the company, he spent about a year looking for a job before he accepted a teaching position for chemistry at Highland Springs High School in Henrico County, Virginia.  After a year there, he moved to Monacan High School in Chesterfield County, where he has remained to this day.  Like at Highland Springs, he began with chemistry and then in 2010 he began to teach physics classes as well.  As of current, Mr. Leonard now primarily teaches physics. 



         Mr. Leonard talked with us about some of what he’s learned as an educator, from how physics and chemistry education is different to how he tries to get students to understand material and also things that can be frustrating as a teacher.  While Mr. Leonard first started teaching physics out of some necessity, he cites his primary reason for now teaching only physics classes being that it’s much easier, and more fun, to actually demonstrate to students what he wants them to investigate.  He also mentions that, when students have trouble understanding particular concepts, it’s useful to help them identify relationships and patterns with what’s going on, and making use of visual aids is often a very useful tool for these purposes.  His largest pet peeve with the job is just when students won’t ask him questions.  Mr. Leonard says that questions are helpful in identifying where he can improve as an educator, and also where he may need to revisit a concept or slow down the pace so that everyone understands clearly what’s going on in class.

          We also got to hear a bit of how Mr. Leonard tries to structure his class, and key to this is his core philosophy behind teaching.  As Mr. Leonard says himself, “I want to teach so I’m having fun!” and this entails a lot of interaction with the students, both in projects and in class structure.  A typical class utilizes a small demo as the beginning of discussion, and students are encouraged to discuss and ask questions about what’s going on with the demonstration.    There may be some smaller notes or formulae to copy down, but most of what happens is really a conversation about the subject at hand, whether it be projectile motion or energy.  When it comes to projects, Mr. Leonard tries to engage students with projects that focus on applying the skills learned in the classroom with design and construction principles in engineering.  Whether it be designing a cart so that it travels a certain distance or achieves a certain distance within a certain time, to having students create towers out of popsicle sticks and marshmallow launchers to lay siege to said towers, students are expected to work collaboratively both among themselves and with Mr. Leonard to apply the knowledge they’ve gained from class.

          Thank you again to Mr. Leonard, it was a great pleasure to have such as dedicated and engaged teacher share with us his experiences as an educator, and a thank you as well to James Clabough, the freshman physics major who nominated him!


  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

            On October 11, 2018, the first Demystifying the Expert event for the 2018-2019 term welcomed Dr. Mark Gabriele from the Department of Biology as our guest expert for the evening.  Dr. Gabriele has been faculty at JMU since 2001, after research appointments and received his doctoral degree from Wake Forest University, but he is also an alumnus from JMU!

The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Michael Mathis and Ethan Schultze, both junior media arts and design majors, and Caroline Buddendorf, a sophomore theatre major.  Right before the inaugural twenty questions game, Dr. Gabriele asked each comedian what their favorite genre of music or band was, which would later clue in to how Dr. Gabriele entered his field and in particular what he studies.  Michael mentioned his Spotify recommendations being primarily hip hop, Ethan had classic rock and Queen being his favorite band, and Caroline named Gorillaz as her current most listened to group.

            After Dr. Gabriele’s questions, the comedians had their turn to inquire in the twenty questions game.   Each comedian took turns asking Dr. Gabriele yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  Our comedians started off strong in narrowing his field down to something in biology, but then spent much of their time trying to figure out what exactly he did related to animals.  After twenty questions, Dr. Gabriel revealed that he, while he does use animals in the lab in his work, is a developmental neuroscientist with a focus in sensory integration, or the circuits within our brain that allow us to use our senses.


            As he explained with open ended questions, he does much work in the studies of audition, how we hear, and his love for music is what kept him in developmental neuroscience for the past two decades.  He also revealed his favorite band, The War on Drugs.  He shared his most fascinating discovery from his work, where he had seen that the brain had already developed the neural networks for hearing and vision before the ears and eyes were fully formed. 

            In his elevator pitch, where he gives a brief overview of his work and how it relates to the greater world, he mentioned how his work applies to many different disorders, from things as isolated in cause like tinnitus to much more complex disorders like autism-spectrum disorder.  And, in addition, he talked about how his work would be able to help improve therapy parameters for patients, but also that his work was trying to find a way to change the neural networks in order to alleviate these disorders.

            The second game was the fill-in-the-blank game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Gabriele’s research.  Both related to the maps within the brain that transmit sensory data, but while the first mentioned how some people’s brains may have more connections between their cortices, the second article talked about how maps that never had a need to develop (as in the case of a person born without hands) were not only still developed, but eventually used in the event of ‘regaining’ sensory capabilities, as with a transplant procedure.

            Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms or terms mean in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians learned about the microglia, small cells in the brain that support neurons and are responsible for pruning brain connections into the proper maps.

            Finally, the audience got to learn more about Dr. Gabriele outside of his life as a biologist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that Dr. Gabriele, during his undergraduate career at JMU, was an Olympic-level swimmer, having his personal record for the butterfly stroke still standing at Godwin Hall.  In addition, we learned that he learned to balance his busy life with meditation, with most sessions lasting thirty minutes and the most public being in an airport.

            The final event of the night was the skit in which the comedians played out an imagined day in the life of the office hours of Dr. Gabriele.  With some mandatory quotes relating to biology and neuroscience from pop culture favorites like Gattaca, our comedians came up with a scenario where a humble student approaches Dr. Gabriele about a test question, but quickly delving into an exploration of the deeper meanings of life, friendship, and what is real and what is made real by the imagination.  From ‘Dr. Gabriele’ hinting that he may be a multi-dimensional being to judging a man, or imaginary man, by his outfit, it certainly was a wild ride!


            We look forward to seeing you at the second Demystifying the Expert event for the fall semester at 7:00 PM on Thursday, November 8, 2018, at Taylor Down Under, the first floor of Madison Union!

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
JMU Physics & Astro Blog by Adriana Banu - 9M ago
 The 2018 WINNER of the JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award  We are proud to announce that 
the 2018 recipient of the JMU High School Physics Teacher of the Year Award
 is
Mr. Nicholas Leonard
Science Teacher at Monacan High School, North Chesterfield, VA

The student who has nominated Mr. Leonard is James Clabough, currently a physics major at JMU. Here is James in his own words describing the exceptional attributes of his nominee:

“Mr. Leonard has a wonderful way of making physics fun and entertaining, whether that be learning the forces of projectile motion through marshmallow catapults to learning about centripetal forces by using a flying squealing pig. Mr. Leonard always knows how to explain things well and relate key concepts involved around physics back to everyday life by preforming experiments in the matter or watching relevant viral videos to the concept he is trying to explain. All in all Mr. Leonard is unparalleled in how he teaches the subject and would be the best candidate for the honor of JMU High School Teacher of the Year.”
 
Mr. Leonard will be visiting us at JMU on Tuesday, November 6th (Election Day) when he will meet with faculty and students, see our facilities, and receive a gift in recognition of the award. Feel free to join us for the award ceremony of Mr. Leonard at 2 pm in Room 2212 (Phys. Chem. Bldg.)!
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

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 very own 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. Podcasts for previous Demystifying the Expert events can be found here on SoundCloud!

            On March 29, 2018, the final Demystifying the Expert event for the spring semester welcomed Dr. Barbara Reisner from the Department of Chemistry as our expert for the evening, and in a change of scene, we had the great pleasure of hearing her at Pale Fire Tap Room in Downtown Harrisonburg.

            The members of JMU’s New and Imrpov’d who participated in the event were: Alex Jacobs, a senior communications and philosophy major, Marian Duffy, a sophomore art-or-something-related major, and Drew Holt, a junior marketing major.

            The first game that the comedians played in order to determine what the expert studied was twenty questions. Each comedian took turns asking Dr. Reisner yes or no type questions to help them deduce what area of science she studies.  After a few questions, our comedians discovered that Dr. Reisner works in the chemistry department, and more specifically, inorganic and materials chemistry.

            With some more open-ended questions, Dr. Reisner explained some of the tools and tricks of her trade, including a brief description of what makes physical chemistry different from other types of chemistry.

            The second game was the fill-in-the-blank game, during which the comedians guess words that complete titles of articles that relate to Dr. Reisner’s research.

            These articles might not have seemed like they had much in common, with topics about superconductivity, meteorites, virus imaging, and greenhouse gases, but Dr. Reisner explained how each related to her work in the nano-scale.  In particular, one aspect of the work she does allows us to manufacture superconducting materials, and another allows us to essentially trap greenhouse gases in another type of material.

            Next was the jargon game during which the comedians guess what certain acronyms mean or terms that are used in daily life but have a different meaning in the expert’s field. Here, the comedians did well in guessing the more technical meanings of the Dr. Reisner’s jargon, with some words being clarified for those who had taken chemistry courses before.  Among the words were bomb, oven, and glove-box, with more foreign words like zeolites and diffraction. 

            Finally, the audience got to learn more about the Dr. Reisner outside of his life as a chemist with the Two Truths and a Lie game. During this game, the comedians and audience learned that, Dr. Reisner has kept very active her entire life, from participating in numerous sports in her high school career to singing in numerous choirs throughout her life to being an active advocate for the development of a new high school in Harrisonburg.  While she might not have beers created by herself at the Tap Room, one of her party tricks for parties involves spelling with the periodic table, which she very quickly demonstrated with her own name and those of our hosts.

            The final event of the night was the skit in which the comedians played out an imagined day in the life of the research lab of Dr. Reisner with some mandatory quotes relating to chemistry and its reactions from movies and books like The Martian. The skit involved much work with small and dangerously powerful reactions to clean our ecosystem of greenhouse gases, some burgeoning romance between the lab assistants and Dr. Reisner quickly flipping from admonishment to advocacy, and a deep questioning of the intrinsic nature of the field, and of life itself.  It was a final recap of all that the audience, and the comedians, had learned in a brief but fantastical way.

            We look forward to seeing you at the first Demystifying the Expert event for the fall semester at 7:00 PM on Thursday, October 11, 2018, in our usual location at Taylor Down Under, the first floor of Madison Union!

  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

This September, experts on quark hadron duality from around the world will come to Harrisonburg to discuss this aspect of nuclear physics that makes use of the new 12 GeV capabilities of the Jefferson National Lab (JLab) in Newport News, VA. Professor Ioana Niculescu of JMU has been a leader in this research at JLab and is part of the five-person organizing team bringing the conference to JMU.
The program will being on Sunday afternoon, September 23, 2018 with a session on "Duality in Spectroscopy" followed by a welcoming reception. Talks will continue on Monday, September 24 and Tuesday, September 25 probing deeper and deeper into this field. The sessions will be held in the Montpelier Room in the East Campus Dining Hall near the Physics and Chemistry Building on campus at JMU.
For more information about this conference, go here.
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
On Saturday, March 17, the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) event hosted by the JMU Department of Math and Statistics took place. 
The event is aimed at middle school girls and mission statement on the event’s page on the JMU website (linked above) is: “Expanding Your Horizons at James Madison University engages young women in high-quality hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities and small-group interactions with female scientist role models to foster and support the young women’s interest in STEM fields, to increase their awareness of opportunities in STEM-related careers, and to empower them to see themselves as future participants in these fields and careers.”
The Department of Physics and Astronomy showed demonstrations to the girls who participated EYH as part of their day. 
Natali Bushamani (‘18) presented a demonstration of lights of different colors created by heating gas of different elements. Spectra glasses were handed out to the audience so that they could look through them to see the differences in spectra of each of the elements. As the lights were turned off in the auditorium and each light was shown, after a quick explanation to the girls from Natali of what the element was. The elements included Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, and some others.
Alle Goodis (’19) called on volunteers from the audience to have the girls come up to the stage and get their hands on the Van de Graaff and learn about electrostatics. The first volunteer came up to the stage and placed her hands on the Van de Graaff. Her hair stood on end, which pulled some laughs from the audience.  Then a group of five girls came up to the stage and all held hands before letting go and all getting slightly shocked. Seeing the interest in the girls’ want to volunteer was especially fun when Alle told them they’d probably get shocked, and they only became more enthusiastic.
Yvonne Kinsella (’18) presented some liquid nitrogen demos to the audience, including pouring it on the stage as the audience watched it evaporate, quickly sticking in her hand and pulling out while explaining that it evaporates quickly enough that it doesn’t hurt as long as the exposure is quick. Two Erlenmeyer flasks were filled with liquid nitrogen and then balloons were put on top of them, which then proceeded to burst, which caused a lot of commotion in the audience because of the loud, sudden noise. Finally, a few tangerines and one rubber ball were frozen in the nitrogen and smashed on the floor of the stage for the audience to see.
The last demonstration was by Mary Ogborn (’21). She did a “ring toss” demonstration, using an electromagnetic ring launcher.  This was a quick demonstration which required some explanation of E&M principles to the audience.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy’s demos at EYH 2018 were highly educational and interesting, keeping the audience of girls engaged and actively participating. Overall it was a successful piece of the day-long event. 

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview