Selasa, 09 Oktober 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

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

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