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


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 parents will enjoy, too: Saturday Morning Physics. For the fourth 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. 25    Dr. Harold Butner    Piercing the Darkness - Star Formation Revealed

How stars form is a question that has puzzled scientists for centuries. With the recent advent of new telescopes that can look at wavelengths other than the visible, we have begun to pierce the dark clouds of dust and gas where we think stars are born. Such observations reveal a wealth of activity - chemistry, outflows, stellar fusion turning on - that eventually turn a cold dark cloud of molecular gas into a planetary system or a large stellar cluster. We will draw on examples of radio and infrared observations to show how astronomers sort out what is going on behind the curtain of gas and dust protecting the newborn stars - a curtain that remains hundreds of light years away from us!


Feb. 1    Dr. Gabriel Niculescu    The Higgs Boson

Every year the Swedish Academy of Science awards the Nobel Prize in Physics to to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. This past October the award went to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs ...for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles... In this lecture we shall explore what hides behind the two sets of ...


Feb. 8    Dr. Jason Haraldsen    Understanding Materials: How Material Properties Are Shaping the Future

We will look at the physics behind some of the most innovative material devices today. These in solar cells, thermoelectric devices, and magnetic and superconductors materials.The goal is to introduce you to the materials that are shaping the future.


Feb. 15    Dr. Keigo Fukumura    Black Holes & Mathematics

Learning algebra and calculus is not necessarily useless for those who are interested in understanding some exotic physical conditions of matter in the universe. Such matter, among others, includes black holes, which can be observationally probed to some extent while still directly inaccessible to us. In this talk I will briefly explain how mathematical language could help astrophysicists study black holes. I will further demonstrate the power of theoretical tools in this exciting field of physics.


Feb. 22    Dr. Costel Constantin    Thermoelectric Materials and Their Implications for Energy Efficiency

Due to the ever-increasing energy demand and growing global concern over the environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions, there is an urging need to seek solutions to transit from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. Only 30% of the energy used every day is converted into useful work and the remaining 70% is wasted as dissipated heat during energy conversion, transportation, and storage. This giant loss can itself be source of recyclable energy that can be renewed into useful energy with the use of thermoelectric (TE) materials. These TE materials have the ability to directly and efficiently convert heat into electricity. In this lecture, we present our most recent results on the thermoelectric properties of Manganese Oxide powders as a function electrical resistance.


Mar. 1    Drs. Scott Paulson & Chris Hughes    The Physics of Baseball

Just in time for spring training! We will discuss the various forces that are present in a typical baseball play. We will examine how the pitcher can use spin to control the path of a pitch and attempt to fool batters, and what role the seams on the ball play. We will also take a close look at what goes on when a bat hits a ball. Questions to think about: how important is the batters follow through on the path of the ball? Are aluminum bats "better"? What good does corking a bat do? As Skip from Bull Durham once said "(Baseball) is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball." We'll discuss some of the complicated details of this simple sport.



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.


Physics is Phun Science Show! Students and faculty of the physics and astronomy will provide for you a PHYSICS IS PHUN science show. Physics majors and faculty will run through a host of demonstrations that illustrate principles of science that range from the basic forces of nature like electricity to the way matter behaves and changes.




The registration fee for the Saturday Morning Physics program is $45. Please follow this link to register for the program. If you would further like to be considered for a scholarship to defer costs to the program, click this link to submit a scholarship application


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!



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. Brian Utter ( or Dr. Ioana Niculescu ( All other questions related to registration, college credit, CEUs etc. should be addressed to JMU Outreach & Engagement ( or 540 568 4253).


Previous Saturday Morning Physics

SMP was held in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Here are the links to the previous events:

2011 Saturday Morning Physics

2012 Saturday Morning Physics

2013 Saturday Morning Physics


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