Featured Department: Physics

Equipotential plot of two rotating masses

Equipotential plot for two rotating masses.
Can you find the five Lagrange points?

The Physics Department serves essentially every Science and Engineering student at CBU. In addition to its service courses, the department offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and in Engineering Physics. Most people recognize that you can teach with a physics degree, and we do have a program for teacher licensure in physics. There are lots of other career options with a physics degree. Our recent majors have entered graduate programs in physics and other related disciplines at institutions including Harvard, Tufts, Vanderbilt, University of Tennessee, University of Arizona, and University of Memphis.

Science Trivia with Dr. John Varriano as the game master.

Science Trivia Night with Dr. John Varriano as the game master.

As with other Sciences’ departments, the Physics Department has a student organization on campus. The CBU chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) is open to all students with an interest in physics. Dr. Ted Clarke serves as the faculty moderator. The chapter has been active this year sponsoring various talks and helping out with the Science Olympiad where they served as supervisors for 3 events and assisted with 5 other events.  They also assisted with the Science Fair.  The group held a Science Trivia Night with CBU and Rhodes SPS in fall, and attended the talk at Rhodes given by Dr. Lisa Randall on April 11.  Dr. Randall is a world-leading theoretical physicist at Harvard University who does work in cosmology and particle physics. 

Dr. Clarke's apparatus: Eddy Currents and Aluminum Cans

Dr. Clarke’s apparatus: Eddy Currents and Aluminum Cans

Faculty members in the department are committed to teaching physics and continually “hone their craft”.  Drs. Ted Clarke and John Varriano recently attended the annual conference of the Tennessee Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (TAAPT) in March at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.  They came away from the conference with many good ideas.  They each gave presentations on topics that they have developed for their own courses.  “Eddy Currents and Aluminum Cans” was presented by Dr. Clarke in which he discussed a simple apparatus that he built that demonstrates how changing magnetic fields from a pair of coils induce currents in an aluminum soda can and cause the can to spin.  (The photo above shows the apparatus.)  Dr. Varriano presented “Physics Fun with 3-D Glasses” in which the physics of polarized 3-D glasses was demonstrated and discussed.  (The photo in the News of the Moment section shows some of the conference attendees with their 3-D glasses on as they listen to Dr. Varriano.)  Dr. Clarke was elected TAAPT president for the 2014-15 year.  CBU will host the conference in the spring of 2015.

Electric Field Simulation

Electric Field Simulation in PHYS 251 and 202 lab. One positive and one negative charge.

The department members are continuing their efforts of incorporating computer-aided instruction into physics education. Dr Johnny Holmes and Dr. John Varriano have worked on a project called Computer-Assisted Homework for Physics (CAHP) that consists of 48 individual programs that provide physics homework problems for students in which the computer immediately grades and provides feedback to the students. Drs. Holmes and Varriano updated these programs to run more easily in the Windows environment, and these programs are available to the public for free. So far over 750 people world-wide have downloaded these programs. CBU students have consistently indicated on student evaluations of courses that these programs are a valuable learning tool. Dr. Varriano recently prepared video presentations of solutions to over 90 practice problems for his Physics I and II classes. The videos show the solutions being worked out by hand with audio commentary. They are posted on-line and can be played from any browser. Dr. Varriano reports that many of his students found the videos to be very helpful. Dr. Ted Clarke uses an on-line textbook with electronic resources including web-based assigned problems.  The department members also have worked out various simulations for labs and for upper level courses.  The image above shows an example of an electric field simulation which allows students to choose their charges and map out the corresponding electric field.

Moment of Inertia Lab in Physics

Students working on a moment of inertia lab for Physics I. (Students normally work in groups of 2, but we had some camera hounds!)

PHYSICS LABS: We have many lab courses to accompany our lecture courses (PHYS 150L, 251L, 252L, 201L, 202L, 415L, 452) so students get to investigate in a hands-on way the theories that are discussed in class. The department has designed the lab experiments to directly support the lectures, and the faculty have written their own lab manuals (10 of them!). The manuals are very efficient since they are custom made for our experiments and our equipment. The manuals are posted on-line for students to download free of charge.

Jonathan Fili with his theremin

Jonathan Fili with his theremin

While physics majors “enjoy” their many hours of coursework, they seem maybe more excited when they get to perform their senior research projects.  A senior project is required for graduation because of the enriching experience that students gain.  Students can do their research either at CBU or at some other institution.  Ecklin Crenshaw, Physics 2013, has been working as an intern for Dr. Chris Calabrese in the Small Animal Imaging Center at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  The group studies imaging technologies such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  Ecklin is delving into the physics of these different imaging techniques.  Jonathan Fili’s, Engineering Physics 2013, interest in physics and music led to his project of building a theremin, a unique electronic instrument.  Instead of touching the instrument, a person brings their hand close to an antenna that is part of an oscillating circuit.  The distance between the hand and antenna affects the capacitance of the circuit which affects the frequency of the oscillation and of the sound wave that is generated. (The photo shows Jonathan playing the theremin.)  Jonathan has been accepted into the Master’s program in physics at Mississippi State University.

Brent Holmes presenting his physics REU research results at the SPS Zone meeting

Brent Holmes presenting his physics REU research results at the SPS Zone meeting.

Brent Holmes (Physics & Mathematics 2013) did research at Montana State University in solar physics in the summer of 2011 through a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  This formed the basis for his research project in physics.  Last summer, Brent was awarded another NSF REU to work in a mathematics group at Auburn University.  This work served not only as his senior project in mathematics but also resulted in a paper that he presented at the recent Tennessee Academy of Sciences meeting at CBU.  Brent was awarded first prize in the mathematics session for his paper “Rainbow colorings of some geometrically defined uniform hypergraphs in the plane”.  Brent has been accepted into graduate programs in mathematics at Auburn, Kansas, and Memphis, and has accepted a Teaching Assistantship in the Ph.D. program in Mathematics at the University of Kansas.  Rebekah Herrman, Physics & Mathematics 2014, will be performing research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory this summer in quantum computing.  Rebekah was awarded an undergraduate research grant funded by the Department of Energy.  Rebekah is pictured in the News of the Moment section.