Research plays a vital role in the education of our undergraduate majors. Each major is required, for graduation, to complete two credits of research. The department uses externally funded research among the faculty to enhance the educational environment providing research experience for undergraduates. Many of our undergraduates additionally work with a professor on their research during the summer months for pay. Departmental research interests include materials science, nuclear/particle physics, soft condensed matter and astronomy and astrophysics. In May 2005, the department moved into a new Physics and Chemistry building. A significant part of the $2.7M in equipment funds associated with the new building was used to acquire detectors and instrumentation for the four existing nuclear/particle physics research laboratories in support of research programs at Jefferson Lab, TUNL, and Fermilab. The department has access to a scanning electron microscope, an atomic force microscope, and a clean room in support of its materials science program. The department also has 6 10" Meade and a 14" Celestron telescope all outfitted with SBIG CCDs and spectrometers. It operates a small radio telescope situated on the roof of the building. Our research is supported by strong information services provided by JMU's library system. JMU Libraries provides focused access to the research literature, highlighting major information databases and resources on the Physics & Astronomy Subject Guide. A brief description of the research being done here in the Physics & Astronomy Department at JMU is given below:


Astronomy & Astrophysics Research

Dr. Anca Constantin received her Ph.D. from Ohio University. She then moved on to a postdoc position at Drexel University followed by two years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She joined the faculty of the Physics & Astronomy Department at JMU in the Fall of 2009. Dr. Constantin explores galaxy centers using observations acquired from major observatories on the ground as well as in space, including the Hubble and the Chandra X-ray space telescopes. She is developing new methods to examine how super-massive black holes grow in galaxy centers and to understand their co-evolution with their hosts.


Dr. Harold Butner received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Butner is a radio astronomer who works in the submillimeter range. He was a Carnegie Fellow at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C. From there he held a position at Stewart Observatory in Arizona and, after that, at the Joint Astronomy Center in Hawaii. He is interested in using submillimeter observations to learn more about the process of star formation.


Dr. Sean Scully received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics in 1997 from the University of Minnesota. He had a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute d'Astrophysique de Paris and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship (NRC) at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Prior to coming to JMU he was a visiting assistant professor at Valparaiso University. He joined the faculty at JMU in the Fall of 2004. His research focuses on astroparticle and early universe physics. Dr. Scully is most interested in using high energy cosmic rays, gamma-rays, and neutrinos along with the cosmic microwave background to try and place constraints on fundamental physics.


Materials Science Research

Dr. Costel Constantin received his Ph.D. from Ohio University. He held a postdoctoral position at Carnegie Mellon University. He then held a position at Seton Hall University. Dr. Constantin joined the faculty at JMU in the Fall of 2010. Dr. Constantin's research focuses on the growth and characterization of rare earth oxides and nitride semiconductors.


Dr. William Christopher Hughes received his Bachelors from Davidson College and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. He then held a postdoc position at North Carolina State coming to JMU in the Fall of 1997. He is currently the Director of the Center for Materials Science at James Madison University. Dr. Hughes researches microfluidic devices and nanocomposite polymer surfaces in collaboration with Dr. Brian Augustine of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department.


Dr. Scott Paulson received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. He has held postdoctoral positions at both Duke University and the University of Penn. Dr. Pauson's research focuses on the electrical and mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes. Students participate directly in the growth and characterization of these structures in Dr. Paulson's lab at JMU.


Dr. Giovanna Scarel received her Ph.D. from the Department of Materials Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She then became a postdoctoral associate, and later, a research associate at the CNR-INFM-Materials and Devices for Microelectronics National Laboratory, Italy. More recently, she was a research associate at North Carolina State and then joined the faculty at JMU in the Fall of 2009. Dr. Scarel is interested in experimental and simulation work to investigate fundamental optical properties related to optical phonons in thin films. Dr. Scarel studies the response of oxide layers deposited with high uniformity using atomic layer deposition exposed to infrared radiation. The response is determined by surface longitudinal optical modes and transverse optical phonons.


Nuclear & Particle Physics Research

Dr. L. Adriana Banu, an experimental nuclear physicist, received her Ph.D. in 2005 from University of Mainz, Germany, on research work on the structure of exotic nuclei at GSI Darmstadt. Soon after that, she moved to the USA as a postdoctoral research associate at the Cyclotron Institute/Texas A&M University, where she carried out research in nuclear physics for astrophysics using rare isotope beams. Prof. Banu joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at JMU in fall of 2010. Her current research interests are the nuclear processes that occur in stars and stellar explosions of astrophysical relevance for the nucleosynthesis of chemical elements; she investigates them using both stable and radioactive nuclear beams. At the Madison Radiation Laboratory, a new facility currently under development at JMU, she is focused on implementing a nuclear astrophysics research project based on photoactivation technique.


Dr. Kevin Giovanetti received his Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary (1982). As a postdoctoral researcher at PSI, Dr. Giovanetti continued his exploration of fundamental physics using atoms composed of exotic particles. This was followed by a second postdoctoral position at UVA where Dr. Giovanetti learned the electron scattering techniques that he currently uses to explore the properties of protons and neutrons at Jefferson lab. Dr. Giovanetti came to JMU in 1989. He strove to merge a productive research program in low energy particle physics with undergraduate education. Recent highlights include his involvement in CLAS at Jefferson lab, G-2 at Fermi lab, and Mulan at PSI.


Dr. Gabriel Niculescu received his Ph.D. from Hampton University. He then moved on to a postdoc position at Jefferson Lab (by way of Ohio University) and then at the University of Virginia. He came to JMU in 2003. Dr. Niculescu is a member of the CLAS collaboration at Jefferson Lab and the Minerva neutrino experiment at Fermi Lab. He is involved in all aspects of designing, simulating, building, and testing detectors for these high energy experiments, as well as analyzing the data.


Dr. Ioana Niculescu received her Ph.D. from Hampton University. She went on to hold a postdoctoral position at Jefferson Lab. Dr. Niculescu joined the faculty of JMU in 2002. She is a member of the CLAS collaboration of Jefferson Lab and also the Minerva neutrino experiment at Fermi Lab. Dr. Niculescu studies quark-hadron duality, that is, being able to describe hadronic processes in terms of quarks and gluons or also in terms of hadrons.


Dr. Steven Whisnant is currently the Department Head. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University. Dr. Whisnant runs the hydrogen distillery lab at JMU. The purpose of this lab is to purify HD gas to be used as target polarized nucleons for gamma-rays. Dr. Whisnant is a member of the High Intensity Gamma Source (HIGS) collaboration which uses the Compton backscattered photon beam at the Duke Free Electron Laser Laboratory (DFELL) on the campus of Duke University in Durham, NC to study photonuclear interactions.


Soft Condensed Matter Research

Dr. Klebert Feitosa received his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he worked in fluidized granular media. Later he joined the group of Dr. Douglas J. Durian, at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, as a postdoc researching foam dynamics. Subsequently, he became staff Scientist for GlaxoSmithKline investigating granulation of pharmaceutical powders and nanomaterials for drug delivery. More recently he returned to Penn as a postdoc in the lab of Dr. John C. Crocker studying soft glassy materials. He joined the faculty of the Physics & Astronomy Department at JMU in the Summer of 2010. His research interests are in the emerging area of soft materials and complex fluids.


Dr. Brian Utter received his Ph.D. from Cornell University. From there he moved on to a postdoctoral position at Duke University. He joined the faculty of the Physics & Astronomy Department at JMU in the Fall of 2004. Dr. Utter's research is concerned with condensed matter experiments and complex systems. In particular he studies shearing and friction in granular materials.



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