Physics and Chemistry Professional Days

Physics Professional Day

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Local area teachers attended the first Physics Professional Day sponsored by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Y.A.P.A. (Youngstown Area Physics Alliance) on Tuesday, December 20, 2016. At this first all-day meeting, the faculty from the Physics Department presented demonstrations covering varying topics such as resonance, energy, sound and an explanation of the upcoming Physics Olympics competition.

The teachers watched a presentation in the Planetarium and learned about the many resources available to them, including travel expenses to bring their students to YSU’s campus. Each teacher received hands-on laboratory ideas and supplies to use in his or her own classroom to create items used to initiate infrasonic sound waves and information about the ease of applying for STEM scholarships. Y.A.P.A. coordinator, Mary Janek, was very pleased with the success of the inaugural meeting and hopes to continue the practice in conjunction with the YSU Physics & Astronomy Department.

Written by Aislinn Janek

Chemistry Professional Day

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The Department of Chemistry hosted its annual Professional Day January 6th. Professional Day is a one-day workshop for local teachers touching on topics of chemical and/or educational interest.

This year the theme for Professional Day was “Forensic Science: How Chemistry is Used to Help Us Solve Mysteries, Murder and Mayhem!” Participants were welcomed by Dr. Tim Wagner, the chair of the department. Teachers then heard presentations from two people with experience in forensic analysis. Andrew Hirt, President and Senior Scientist of Materials Research Laboratories, Inc. (MRL), in Struthers, Ohio has worked with law enforcement at the local, state, and national level. He spoke on using the right instrumental tools to prove or refute the evidence. Andrew was followed by one of YSU’s own, Shaena Taylor (BSAS in Forensic Science, 2008). Shaena is currently a Forensic Scientist 3 specializing in drug chemistry at Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Science Laboratory located within the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office in Cleveland, Ohio. She discussed the drug trade in the Cleveland area, and she gave an overview of a typical day in the lab focusing on the analysis of drug mixtures involving cocaine and heroin.

After the presentations teachers had a chance to perform one of two forensic labs – TLC of over-the-counter pain killers or a qualitative analysis of ions found in blood. In the afternoon, teachers finished the day in the Department of Criminal Justice & Forensic Sciences where Professor Susan Clutter demonstrated how do visualize blood splatter. Professor Rob Wardle showed everyone how to visualize latent fingerprints. Student Melissa James gave us a tour of the crime scene condo where students in the department learn how to secure a crime scene and collect evidence. The response from the participants was overwhelmingly positive and several planned on incorporating what they learned into their classes.

Coming Soon to the Planetarium!

Laser Shows

Laser Weekend is back! Don’t miss this fun and entertaining weekend filled with great music and colorful displays on January 20 and 21. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and more will each have their own time slots that you can attend. Check out the planetarium program calendar for a full listing of shows.

This is only for one weekend a year! Do not miss your chance to see these crowd favorites. Shows run Friday evening and all day Saturday in place of the normally scheduled public programs. This event has come to be very popular, and again it is only once a year, so don’t miss out!

While the Ward Beecher Planetarium has always been and always will be free and open to the public, a suggested donation of $2.00 per person for this special event will allow us to continue to bring programs like this to the Mahoning Valley.

Lecture Series

The Ward Beecher Planetarium is proud to introduce our new lecture series: Astronomers will visit for LIVE presentations on the latest fascinating findings on a wide variety of topics!

Lectures include talks about exoplanets and extraterrestrial life, supermassive black holes, and dark matter. The speakers are all guests to the Ward Beecher Planetarium, so each will only be presenting once.

This lecture series begins February 17 with Penn State Behrend Physics & Astronomy professor Dr. Darren Williams presenting “Hello! Is Anyone Out There? Some Thoughts on Exoplanets and Life.”

Check out the planetarium calendar for details and more events.

Follow the Ward Beecher Planetarium on Facebook and Twitter, and visit their website to stay up-to-date on all public events.50th anniversary logo

3D Printed Models Showcase NASA Missions

As part of our 50th anniversary celebration, the Ward Beecher Planetarium is proud to partner with YSU’s Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing (CIAM) for the new display “NASA Missions to the Solar System” outside the Planetarium on the 2nd floor of Ward Beecher Hall.

With last year’s flyby of Pluto, NASA has had robotic spacecraft visit nearly every major body in the solar system since the dawn of the space age almost 60 years ago. These missions have radically changed our understanding of astronomy, and have captured our imagination with spectacular imagery.

This display lists NASA missions to prominent members of our solar system and features eight 3D printed models to highlight some of the most influential spacecraft.

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Special thanks go to Jay Wargacki and his students, Mechanical Engineering majors Ryan Betts, Mike Manginelli, and Dean Jaric, in the CIAM for converting and printing the models from CAD model plans available from NASA.

If you have any questions about the display, please contact either Curt Spivey at x7278, or Tiffany Wolbrecht at x3619.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium and CosmoQuest – A Partnership with NASA

Earlier in the year, it was announced that Youngstown State University’s Ward Beecher Planetarium received funding through a cooperative agreement with NASA, to work with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on CosmoQuest.

cq-logo“CosmoQuest was developed in 2012,” said Dr. Patrick Durrell, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at YSU. “We call it an online research facility. It’s a website, cosmoquest.org, where you can learn astronomy, you can take classes, you can find materials for teachers, and more.”

One of the things that makes CosmoQuest fairly unique is the idea of citizen science—making the average person into a helpful contributor to science.

“There are little projects where you can get the everyday public involved,” said Dr. Durrell. “They can go online with a little bit of training and they can take part in science. So CosmoQuest was sort of developed on all of those things, to not only—like many other places—try to educate people about astronomy and space science, but also to get people involved.”

The full grant over five years totals around $11.5 million, of which YSU is receiving $650,000. The funding has gone toward new computer work stations, render farms, full-dome cameras, animation equipment, and an additional member of the planetarium team, digital content designer Alexa Alpern.

With these new and updated resources, the planetarium can now produce more content for the planetarium and for the CosmoQuest project.

“Instead of creating one show in two years, we’re going to start creating shorter things and more of them, because some of these shows for the high-end systems can cost $8-10 thousand each,” said Dr. Durrell.

What this means is that the Ward Beecher Planetarium will create a variety of short videos and animations that other planetariums will be able to use and incorporate into their own shows for free. Many other planetariums don’t have the money to buy new shows or the equipment to create full shows, and that’s where CosmoQuest comes in.

“NASA wants to get the word out,” said Dr. Durrell. “Science isn’t really science until you let somebody know about it.   Our part of the project is getting the word out through the planetarium.”

Fully equipped with updated technology and experienced faculty and staff, we can expect some great new educational content from the Ward Beecher Planetarium in the coming months and years, thanks to funding from NASA and this partnership with CosmoQuest.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium Welcomes Alexa to the Team!

Originally from Ocean City, Maryland, Alexa Alpern holds a bachelor’s degree in applied media arts and computer animation from Edinboro University. The best part? She is the newest member of our Ward Beecher Planetarium team!

As part of the WB Planetarium’s recent grant with NASA and CosmoQuest, Alexa has been hired as the Digital Content Designer and Animator. She creates and alters digital content that can be displayed inside full-dome planetariums.

“There will be2D and 3D animated pieces,” said Alexa, “meaning some are CGI like How to Train Your Dragon or Shrek, and some are 2D like Beauty and the Beast or Mulan.”

Not only does she create animations and original artwork, she also edits and composites photos from telescopes and other images that must be altered for planetariums.

“Currently for CosmoQuest, I will be beginning to create and edit a new trailer to represent the CosmoQuest project,” said Alexa. “Throughout this project I will be video compositing and editing and utilizing animations to complete the short representative film.”

CosmoQuest is a great resource for planetariums around the world because people like Alexa can create planetarium-formatted content for anyone to use at no cost. Full-dome shows can be incredibly expensive, so having this sort of open source library of content is an excellent educational resource.

While studying animation at Edinboro University, Alexa worked together with planetarium director Dr. David Hurd to recreate an original slide-based planetarium showin a new digital format. The show, The World at Night, was fully produced and published and made appearances at two Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) conferences as well as in-house public showings throughout the year. After that first show was created, she gained a lot of interest in developing more full-dome content.

Alexa AlpernNo stranger to hard work, Alexa was a Zumba instructor and she was in Olympic figure skating training for 13 years, training under Olympic medalists Ron Ludington and Barbara Roles Williams! She also keeps up with her own artwork; she’s been working on her own animated television series in her free time.

Last year, Alexa won the George H. Nicholas Memorial Animation Scholarship for Excellence in Animation. To see some of her artwork, awards, and professional experience, check out her portfolio!

Recent Publication: Faculty and Students in Physics & Astronomy

Michael Crescimanno and Jim Andrews, Professors in Physics & Astronomy, together with students Brandon Latronica and Maddie Smotzer, co-authored the paper “Linear distributed Bragg cavity effects on optical limiting in two- and three-level media,” to appear in a special December issue of the Journal of the Optical Society of America on the topic “Nonlinear Optics near the Fundamental Limit.” This work was funded through grants from the National Science Foundation. 

Abstract:

A lumped distributed Bragg reflector (DBR)-nonlinear layer-DBR system is used to explore how nonlinear optical effects (in particular, optical limiting) are modulated by the dispersive character of the (optically linear) DBR. A three-level quantum optics model of the nonlinear layer is used to find self-consistent numerical solutions to the (nonlinear) optical transport in the composite system. We find that the intensity dependence of the real part of the index can be combined with the dispersion in the (linear) DBR to cause optical limiting even for materials that have only a saturated absorber (two-level) response.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium Celebrates 50 Years of Education

planetarium then and nowThe Ward Beecher Planetarium was first opened to the public in March 1967. This year, for the entire academic year, we are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary or its fiftieth birthday if you prefer.

“We’re making March the anniversary extravaganza month—every weekend we’re doing something special—but we’re kicking off the celebration this semester,” said planetarium lecturer Tiffany Wolbrecht.

In the coming months, the planetarium will feature audience favorites as well as brand new content. The Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society will be visiting to talk about telescopes, the very popular Laser Weekend and First Night shows are coming this winter, and special guests will be making appearances.

“In March, we are having an alumni weekend where we bring back a lot of people who have worked in the planetarium over the course of the fifty years, including Warren Young, who was the very first planetarium director when the planetarium opened in 1967,” said Tiffany.

During this special weekend in March will be a unique lecture called Skywatch: Then and Now, which highlights what was known about space and the night sky in 1967 compared to the things we know now.

Beginning in February, the Ward Beecher Planetarium is offering a short lecture series to the public; one lecture each month until May.

“We are bringing in professional astronomers to talk about their areas of research,” said Tiffany. “They are areas of astronomy that are hot topics right now that people are really interested in.”

If there is a lot of interest in these lectures, it is something that will continue to be offered in the future with more astronomers and more topics.

Curt Spivey, planetarium engineer and lecturer, reminds us that Ward Beecher wanted the planetarium to be a free educational resource for everyone in the area, and that is what it remains today.

“We are highlighting the past, celebrating the present, and going to the future,” said Curt.

Join us in celebrating the past fifty years of the Ward Beecher Planetarium and looking forward to the next fifty years, whatever that may bring. Visit their website for more information and a schedule of events.

Student Organization Spotlight: Society of Physics Students

This month, we’re starting a new monthly series that highlights various active student organizations in the STEM community. This month YSU STEM is featuring the Society of Physics Students, also knows as SPS.

SPS is a student organization with a purpose of bringing together faculty and students who share interests in physics, astronomy and other STEM-related fields. The organization meets once a month, where members listen to guest lectures, learn and discuss recent advancements in scientific fields and plan future events and activities. Events and activities include guest lectures, planetarium shows, and trips to regional physics meetings, such as the Ohio-Region Section of the American Physical Society. SPS President Martin Strong said they’re also famous for their many pizza parties, and you don’t even have to be a physics major (or any STEM major) to join!

“Students should join SPS if they express any interest in physics and astronomy,” Strong said. “We are an extremely active club, which hosts many guest lectures and events. SPS allows students to become more familiar with the faculty members and the research they conduct at Youngstown State University. Each member will leave every meeting knowing something new, interesting, and if I may say, mind-blowing about the field of physics and astronomy, whether they have a strong math background or not.”

Currently, SPS is working on putting together their first Grill-Out Under the Stars event, where club members and students meet at the end of the school year to cook out and look at astronomical objects through telescopes as a way to officially kick off the beginning of summer break.

If anyone is interested in joining SPS, they can go to the Department of Physics and Astronomy to have their name added to the email list. Also, SPS-hosted guest lectures are open to anyone who would like to attend.