From Subatomic to Galactic Scales:
Explore fascinating science and cutting-edge research topics in physics and astronomy!

An educational event series designed specially for high school students and teachers!
Parents will enjoy it, too!


For the second year running, the Physics and Astronomy Department in collaboration with the Office of Outreach & Engagement at James Madison University cordially invite high-school students and science teachers to take part in an engaging enrichment program developed in a sequence of 6 easy-to-follow scientific exploration events.

You will learn about:

 · the modern alchemy inside the atomic nucleus
 · the realm of visible light and beyond what is visible by taking a
   deep look into the universe
 · the fundamental building block of modern electronic
 · the most famous and arguably the most significant
   idea in the history of science
 · the property of zero electrical resistance that could
   revolutionize the whole world of electronics, power
   and transportation
 · how did Einstein reshape our worldview?

Saturday Morning Physics (SMP) events will consists of lectures, discussions, prizes, quizzes and hands-on experiments.

The format is as follows:

09:15 - 09:30 am      Registration and Welcome
09:30 - 10:30 am      Lecture (45' talk and 15' Q&A session)
10:30 - 11:00 am      Coffee Break
11:00 - 11:30 am      Hands-on Activity 
11:30 - 12:00 pm      Prizes and Quiz

Hands-on activities will include:

Session 1: "Building a computer with students for parts" - Prof. Dorn Peterson (chair)

                       - learn how individual, simple logic circuits like "AND", "OR" can be used
                    to build a computer


Session 2: "Physics is Phun!" - Prof. Kevin Giovanetti (chair)

                 - a host of demonstrations (science show) that illustrate principles of science
                   ranging from the basic forces of nature like electricity to the way matter
                   behaves and changes


Session 3: "Solar rotation period lab" - Prof. Shanil Virani (chair)

                                      - observe the motion of sunspots and learn how to determine the
                                        sun rotation period 



March 3: The Big Bang Theory, Prof. Geary Albright

How did the Universe begin? What is the origin of all the energy and matter in our Universe? Astronomers seek the answers to these questions by observing the Universe and trying to unlock its secrets. In this session, we will trace the history of the Big Bang Theory with special emphasis on the astronomers and the important astronomical observations that gave rise to the theory. How will the Universe end? In addition to helping us understand the origin of the Universe, the Big Bang Theory also can help predict the future Fate of Universe and how the curtain will close on the Universe as we know it.

This site is © Copyright Adriana Banu 2011 - 2012, All Rights Reserved.
This page was last modified on March 4, 2012.

To be awarded a final certificate, you will need to complete at least 4 out of 6 events. Regular attendance is highly recommended!

The quiz sessions will be interactive, fast-pasted competions using electronic clickers to
buzz in with a response. You will have the chance to win prizes and review what you may have learned at the end of each Saturday program.

For additional fees, students and teachers may earn a college credit and CEUs, respectively. For details, please contact JMU Outreach & Engagement at 540 658 4253

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious". ~ Albert Einstein

What about yourself? Are you curious enough about the amazing facets of modern science and its technological implications in our every-day life?




Please add your name to this online form to join the waitlist and to be notified by e-mail when next year's dates are announced. Thank you!

Each SMP event will be held on the James Madison University campus in the Miller Hall, room 1101. Miller Hall is located at 95 E. Grace Street, Harrisonburg, VA. 

Parking: SMP participants and parents/guardians may park for free on program Saturdays in lot M (which is behind Miller Hall, just off of Grace Street) or in the Grace Street Parking Deck (the former Rockingham Memorial Hospital parking deck).  No parking tags needed.

For any questions about the SMP program please contact Dr. Adriana Banu ( or 540 568 8940). All other questions related to registration, college credit, CEUs etc. should be addressed to JMU Outreach & Engagement ( or 540 568 4253).

January 28: Radioactivity - Alchemy of an Atom, Prof. Adriana Banu

This section addresses the 1896 discovery of invisible Uranium rays that dramatically changed physics and chemistry as well as the lives of future generations. We will learn about the early history of this remarkable episode in modern science through the works of radioactivity's pioneers like Antoine-Henry Becquerel (who first discovered it), Marie Sklodowska Curie (the most iconic of women scientists who coined the word "radioactivity" and discovered the radioactive isotopes of Polonium and Radium) or Ernest Rutherford (considered the "father" of nuclear physics who proved that radioactivity involved the transmutation of one chemical element to another). On the footsteps of these prominent scientific figures that pursued the ultimate goal of understanding radioactivity, we will ask, among other questions, the two most fundamental questions - What causes certain atoms to give off invisible, penetrating rays? Where does the atom's energy come from?


February 4: The Transistor, Profs. Chris Hughes and Costel Constantin

Perhaps no other inventions of the 20th century have had as much impact on people’s day-to-day lives as those of the transistor and the integrated circuit. In 1947, when John Bardeen, William Brattain, and William Shockley invented the transistor in their work at Bell Labs, they could have had no idea of the future of computing and the information age that it would bring. The initial use for the transistor seemed limited to amplifying small electrical signals until 11 years later with Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce developed the integrated circuit (IC). These ICs became the basis of the microcomputers and other electronics we are so familiar with today. We will talk about the history behind these devices and some others such as LEDs and laser diodes, discuss the materials they are made of, and give some demonstrations of how they work. We will also talk about what the future may bring as the push to miniaturization continues on into the nanoscale.


February 11: Telescopes: Portals of Discovery, Prof. Anca Constantin

September 14, 2011, the news are just in: the United States Senate has decided to fully fund the James Webb Space Telescope, and it should be set to launch in 2018. This is a huge victory for astrophysics in this country. It is great to see that we are still committed to "going big, not going home." But how much do we need this telescope, and how far we've come already in building it? Why are we planning to build even greater telescopes, and which are those? Where and why did we start? We will learn in this session about the discovery voyage that led us to these questions and their answers, mainly from the passion for basic scientific discovery about the universe we live in. You'll see that the greatest telescopes we are building not only offer us spectacular images revealing dramatic episodes of star birth and death, shocking phases in evolution of new (to us) solar systems and galaxies, and thus unique insight into the universe coming into being, but also independent proof for the physical laws that govern the excitement of our daily life (or lack thereof). We will see things in light invisible to human eyes too. We will see clearer, further, and deeper. We will have the sight beyond sight. Because we build telescopes.


February 18: Superconductivity, Prof. Brian Utter

For certain materials, strange things happen when the temperature is decreased. They suddenly lose their electrical resistance and currents can flow effortlessly through them. These "super" conductors literally have no resistance to the current whatsoever! They can transport currents without loss, making them promising for electric power transmission. They can also be used to either measure very weak magnetic fields or create very strong magnetic fields in electromagnets used in devices such as NMR and MRI machines. And magnetic fields, which can normally penetrate these materials, can't when the material becomes superconducting, leading to such applications as magnetic levitation and maglev trains. Discovered just over a hundred years ago, it took almost fifty years before the proposal of the BSC Theory which explains the microscopic origin of superconductivity. Superconductivity is the basis of five Nobel Prizes awarded over the past century and remains a field of active research, including the continuous drive to produce materials that are superconducting at room temperature. In this session, we will learn about about what superconductors are, how they work, and what they can be used for.

February 25: Albert's excellent Adventure: Atoms, Photons, Spacetime, and
                      General Relativity
, Prof. William Ingham

In this session, we'll examine such questions as: What was Albert Einstein's family background? Was he a good classroom student? Why did he take a job at the patent office in Bern, Switzerland? Why is 1905 called his miraculous year? What important ideas did Einstein publish regarding thermal motion and radiation? How did he develop the special theory of relativity? What are length contraction and time dilation? Does the equation E = mc2 only apply to nuclear energy release? Did Einstein invent the idea of spacetime? What is a worldline? How is the general theory of relativity different from the special theory of relativity? Does general relativity have any practical importance? How reliable and well-tested are Einstein's theories? What central idea of modern physics did Einstein refuse to accept?


"To Infinity and Beyond: Where a Physics Major Can Take You" by Laura Williams (JMU Career and Academic Planning)
"Physics and Your Future" by Dr. Steven Whisnant (Head of JMU Department of Physics and Astronomy)