The department of Physics & Astronomy is introducing children, teens and even adults to the exciting world of physics and astronomy through several educational outreach programs. With the help of great facilities and research programs, our faculty have developed programs to both educate and entertain. From astronomy (planetarium and star parties) to materials science (nanomanipulator) to our general science outreach (robotics, science shows, and the children's museum), JMU Physics and Astronomy is making an impact with the local community. Check out some of the specifics of our outreach programs below:


John C. Wells 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. The planetarium can accommodate up to 60 people at each viewing.

The Wells Planetarium offers free shows for the public on Saturdays during the school year through April. The shows are held at 1:15 p.m. (targeted more for a younger audience), 2:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. throughout the semester. Shows are completely free and work on a first come first served basis.

The first show is more "kid friendly" while the later shows are targeted more towards adults although kids will still enjoy them. Each show is followed by a 25-minute "star talk" that provides visitors with updates about the night sky, inlcuding constellations, planets and any comets that might be visible. The planetarium is also available for reservation for groups throughout the week. Visit the John C. Wells Planetarium site for more information.


The JMU Meteorite Collection


Physics & Astronomy Department


The JMU Meteorite Collection was started in 2002 in order to have teaching specimens of meteorites for use in introductory astronomy classes. The initial collection contained a simple variety of meteorites including iron, stony, as well as stony-irons meteorites that mostly come from the asteroid belt. Today the collection has vastly expanded to include samples from known solar system objects including Mars, the Moon, as well as the asteroid 4-Vesta. There are additionally impact glasses as well as carbonaceous chondrites from various sites around the world. The collection now also includes several examples of pallasites which are stony-irons that contain beautiful Olivine crystals embedded in an iron matrix. Another notable specimen is the Augusta County meteorite that was found in neighboring Augusta County in 1858 and was eventually analyzed and mentioned in a 1904 Noble prize address.


The show pieces of the collection are two large iron meteorites. The Nantan meteorite weighs 644 pounds and was found in 1958 in Guangxi, China. The Nantan is located in the main meteorite collection which is in the lobby area of the John C. Wells planetarium located on the first floor of Miller hall located on East Grace Street. The other large iron is the Campo del Cielo meteorite located in the lobby of the Physics/Chemistry building located on the East side of campus on Carrier drive.


Everyone is encouraged to visit the meteorites at either location for a self-guided tour. The buildings are usually open during business hours unless there is a holiday. Note: The JMU meteorite collection staff does not certify, authenticate, or render any judgments on samples that individuals may possess. The JMU meteorite collection is maintained as a teaching and research resource that serves both the JMU community as well as the general public.


Star Parties

In the Fall semester of 2006, the JMU Physics & Astronomy Department debuted its Astronomy Park adjacent to the Physics & Chemistry building. JMU has constructed a platform with permanently mounted telescope piers for six 10" equatorially mounted Meade telescopes and one free-standing 14" Celestron telescope. All of these telescopes are outfitted with SBIG CCD cameras and a spectrometer. JMU offers public access or star parties utilizing these telescopes on the last Thursday of each month through the academic semester. If it is cloudy on that night, the following Saturday is used as a backup. Friend "JMUPlanetarium" on Facebook to keep informed about the star parties and planetarium activities.



Robotics is an interesting and very broad area. The department of Physics & Astronomy has developed a workshop for high school students who may be interested in this emerging field. Our hope is to delve into some of the very basic principles and methods. We seek to have students discover the answers to such questions as: How can you maneuver using simple DC-motors or servos? How do you integrate motion and environmental response using a microprocessor? How can one build and test simple electronic circuits that provide speed regulation? How can one sense light, obstacles and other environmental factors using sensors?Last spring we challenged a group of physics majors to design and build a robot that could find and collect paper clips in an enclosed area with obstacles. See a movie of the results here.


Materials & Nanotechnology

Dr. Scott Paulson has developed a traveling web based nanotechnology demonstration to acquaint high school students with the power of modern instrumentation. Using a joy stick and the internet students can manipulate the tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM) to scan surfaces. The AFM is part of Paulson research lab but students have direct access to it through this remote tool. The joy stick can also be enabled to respond to the surface to provide the sensation that you are actually touching the surface through the Joy stick. Both Harrisonburg high school and Governor's school students have enjoyed the activity.


Dr. Constantin is part of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education (NISE) network which is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future. He is presenting hands-on science experiments to kids of all ages from schools around JMU.




Children's Museum

To help younger children grasp concepts of electricity JMU Physics faculty have run workshops at the Harrisonburg Children's Museum. Faculty members use the Van de Graf generator to explain voltage and simulate electric circuits in games where the student plays the role of an electric charge. In addition students are given simple components and are shown how to build simple circuits.


Physics Is Phun!

Every year the students and faculty of the physics department arrange to have some young local students visit for a PHYSICS IS PHUN science show. In spring 2010 the department provided four local groups with shows. Physics majors and faculty 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. If you are interested in arranging a Physics Is Phun show for your school contact Prof. Kevin Giovanetti. Email


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