Spring 2015 Program


This program is brought to you in part by a significant contribution from Jeffrey E. Tickle, JMU Class of 1990.


Follow us on facebook!


From the subatomic to galactic scales! Explore fascinating science and cutting-edge research topics in physics and astronomy. JMU Physics and Astronomy presents an educational event series designed specially for high school students and teachers but one that parents will enjoy, too: Saturday Morning Physics. For the fifth year running, the Physics and Astronomy Department in collaboration with the Office of Outreach and 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.



Each week begins on Saturday morning at 9:00 am. We begin with registration and then presentations will start around 9:30 and run for approximately an hour. Activities follow from 11:00 until noon.


Jan. 24    Dr. Harold Butner    We Are Hunting Planets, Be Very Very Quiet...

Planet hunting is all the rage these days - so what are the techniques that astronomers use to hunt planets? Planets can be found by their effects on the star, by direct detection, and by their effect on stars along the line of sight. We will discuss the pros and cons of various "hunting" techniques as well as the science behind why some techniques work better for nearby stars, and others work better for distant stars.


Jan. 31     Dr. Jason Haraldsen    Understanding Superconductivity: Discovery to Devices

Superconductivity is one of the most interesting physical discoveries of the last 100 years. The ability to reduce internal electrical resistance to zero has multiple technological and device applications. This talk will discuss the history of superconductivity (discovery to the Nobel prizes), the phenomena surrounding it (phase transitions, the Meissner effect, and London moment), and the new and exciting research that is pushing towards advancements in understanding quantum entanglement and quantum computing. We will examine the interactions of electrons within superconducting materials and how they work together to be utilized in various device applications assuming that scientists can get around specific challenges in temperature and material impurities.


Feb. 7    Dr. Keigo Fukumura    Black Hole Physics: Observations and Theory

Black holes, once considered to be a pure mathematical by-product of Einstein’s general theory of relativity (which is Einstein’s gravitational theory), are now one of the most scientifically profound objects to study in the astrophysics community both from observational and theoretical attempts. In this talk I will briefly explain how much we know about black holes and an extreme physical environment around them mostly in X-ray view. I will also demonstrate the power of theoretical tools to better understand those exotic objects.


Feb. 14    Dr. Adriana Banu    Understanding the Universe: From the Atomic Nuclei to the Stars

Although the world we live in is varied and complex, it is actually made up of only a limited number of chemical elements. We know today that only 90 such elements exist naturally on Earth. The origin of these elements is a longstanding scientific problem that requires close collaboration between nuclear physics and astrophysics. In this lecture, we address questions like: Why does gold cost so much more than iron? Or more profoundly: Where do the chemical building blocks of humankind come from? To investigate such questions, two possible scenarios responsible for the origin of the chemical elements (the Big Bang and nucleosynthesis within stars) are discussed. We shall find out that the stars are fascinating "cooking pots" of the Universe and we are made of stardust! The iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones were all forged in stars.


Feb. 21    Dr. Milka Nicolic   Tomography on Atomic Level

If you have ever wonder about the nature of lightning or the northern lights you have probably heard about plasma, the fourth state of matter. Scientists have been studying this state of matter and learned how to produce it in controlled environment and found multiple application for plasma. Today man-made plasma are used in fluorescent lights and neon signs, in medicine to treat the infections on the surface of our skin, or to make computer chips that run our smart devices. We even use it to reproduce the process of producing the energy in fusion reaction like it's done on the surface of our Sun. So, what is plasma and how we can describe its distinctive nature and features? In this talk, we will define plasma and discuss methods like plasma tomography to take a look inside this astounding forth state of matter.


Feb. 28    Dr. Geary Albright    – Why the Big Bang?

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.



Solar Observing! Making use of JMU's solar telescope you will be able to see the Sun as never before. That boring yellow ball up in the sky is really a very dynamic place. Once Galileo first pointed his telescope towards the Sun, scientist began to understand our nearest neighboring star. With JMU's solar telescopes, you will be able to see sunspots, prominences, and the Sun's granulation. You will be able to take a photograph of the Sun similar to the one seen at the right. You'll earn about how the Sun works. We will be tracking sunspots as they traverse the Sun and determine its rotation rate and the length of a day.


Build your own telescope! The first telescope ever built was a refractor telescope, that is one that uses two lenses. Lenses were discovered roughly 700 years ago. They were mostly used as magnifying glasses, or for visual aids. It took humanity roughly another 300 years to figure out that if you combine two lenses in a particular fashion, you obtain a telescope. The first scientist to point his telescope towards the heavens was Galileo. Galileo heard about this new magnifying glass, and was told that it consisted of two lenses inside a tube. Apparently, he then went home, played with some lenses and by the next morning had built his telescope. In this activity we’ll do something similar. First we will analyze the properties of lenses. Then, we will somehow (you’ll figure this out) combine two lenses and rediscover the telescope. You'll get to keep the telescope that you build!


The JMU Planetarium! James Madison University transformed its John C. Wells Planetarium facility in Miller Hall first with a million dollar renovation in the Fall of 2008 and also a recent upgrade in the summer of 2013. The planetarium is outfitted with digital projectors, a hybrid projection system that combines a high quality star projector with an all-dome video system, a state of the art lighting system at the bottom edge of the dome to permit impressive sunrise and sunset simulations (along with many other effects), and a Dolby 5.1 channel sound system. You'll see a full dome movie followed by a "star talk" that will provide you with updates about the night sky, including constellations, planets and any comets that might be visible. Visit the John C. Wells Planetarium site for more information about the facility.


Build a Planisphere, an Air Cannon, a CO2 Rocket!A planisphere is a star chart that can be adjusted to display the visible stars for any time and date. You will also be building your own CO2 rocket using dry ice. There will be a competition to see who's design flies the highest. Using steam power you will also build a cannon but please don't shoot your instructor!




The registration fee for the Saturday Morning Physics program is $50. Please follow this link to register for the program.


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


For additional fees, high-school students (juniors/seniors) may earn a college credit and teachers may earn CEUs. For details, please contact JMU Outreach & Engagement at 540 658 4253 or outreach@jmu.edu!



The SMP events will be held on the James Madison University campus in the Miller Hall Planetarium and/or Miller 1101. Miller Hall is located at 95 E. Grace Street, Harrisonburg, VA.


Further Information

For any questions about the SMP program, please contact Dr. Geary Albright (albrigge@jmu.edu). All other questions related to registration, college credit, CEUs etc. should be addressed to JMU Outreach & Engagement (outreach@jmu.edu or 540 568 4253).


Previous Saturday Morning Physics

Here are the links to the previous events:

2011 Saturday Morning Physics

2012 Saturday Morning Physics

2013 Saturday Morning Physics

2014 Saturday Morning Physics


Contact Us