Get your nano on

nano_daysThe best science is accessible science, especially for children. Ask anyone who grew up with Bill Nye the Science Guy or even Mr. Wizard. Often such accessibility is what launches a career or a lifelong interest in science. It can change lives. Perhaps that will happen this weekend at the Explore More Discovery Museum in downtown Harrisonburg.

On Sunday (April 14), students and faculty from James Madison University will gather at Harrisonburg’s Explore More Discovery Museum to explore nanotechnology with any children who come between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. Nanoscience is the study of very small things — nanometers, a billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of these ultra small things — like atoms and particles — to create new behaviors and unexpected results.

According to Dr. Costel Constantin, who teaches physics and astronomy at JMU, the need for developing young scientists is critical. He writes:

At a time when the rapid advances in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology require an increasing number of skilled personnel, coincidentally, the recruitment of U.S. students to science is at an all time low. According to the National Science Foundation by the year 2015, there will be a need for two million workers worldwide in these fields. Of these, nearly one million will be needed in the U.S. Furthermore, an additional of five million workers will be needed in support areas for these fields. To develop this workforce, inclusion of nanotechnology in K-12 education should start with the primary education and continue all the way to high school level.

This need prompted the JMU faculty and local K-12 science teachers to found the Shenandoah Valley Nanoscience Outreach Collaboration in 2011. SVNOC’s goal is to help teachers bring nanoscience into local classrooms. The NanoDays/Making Stuff event is one part of this effort.

On Sunday afternoon, Costel and his colleagues in the departments of physics and chemistry, along with current JMU physics majors, will lead visiting students through hands-on experiments. They’ll also explore current nano research with adults and older children. According to Lisa Shull (’85,’91M), the museum’s executive director, “It’s a great event for the whole family, children of all ages and parents.” Anyone can participate and it’s free.

But the children aren’t the only ones who will benefit. NanoDays is an opportunity for current JMU students to give back to the local community. And, as Costel writes, “Physics students who help with the event will gain invaluable experience in being able to present the science to kids of all ages.”

Not only does the event make science fun for children, it makes it available and social. This kind of overlap between collegians and local children is priceless and can be inspirational. Who wouldn’t be interested in learning about sand that refuses to get wet even under water or water that refuses to spill, two of the planned activities? And what fifth grader isn’t eager to interact with a cool college student? But it’s far more than a neat idea; it’s important science.

“It is important that everybody is able to learn about nanotechnology because it is impacting our lives considerably,” Costel writes. “If you’ve ever wondered how nano transistors and quantum computers work, or how we create smaller and small batteries that can last longer than the conventional Li-based ones, or how we can create smarter drugs that can cure cancer, diabetes and other life threatening diseases, then Nanotechnology can give you an answer.”

Those answers will begin with fun science on Sunday at 1 p.m. For more information, click the museum’s link above or visit them on Facebook.

And if you’d like to get a taste of the opposite of nano (think gigantic), check out the newest issue of Madison magazine, which should hit newsstands and mailboxes very soon. On page 22, you’ll find a story written by Eric Gorton (’86,’09M), public affairs associate, about groundbreaking research into megamasers being conducted by another JMU Constantin, Anca Constantin, professor of physics and astronomy.

The class of 2012, part 3

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

Peter Epley and Matt Burton

“When I came here I was slightly insecure…..” 

Matt Burton of Chesapeake, Va., is a physics major with a math minor and one of the three co-creators of the Lisanby iPad application. He writes: “In my time at JMU I have grown in maturity tremendously. When I came here I was slightly insecure and over the years I have transitioned into leading research projects for the physics department, making the art iPad app, and becoming a leader in my Christian organization on campus.”

As vice president of ministry for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), formerly Christian student union (CSU), Matt oversees all small groups and leads the men’s group, social events and intramurals for the organization.

 After graduation, Matt will enter a Ph.D. program in nuclear physics at the College of William and Mary. “The best part of graduating,” he writes, “is beginning my life out in the real world and starting to make my mark in my field, while the worst part is leaving all that has become a home to me and leaving my friends here who have become like a family to me.”

The robotics team (l to r) Joey Lang, McHarg, Peter Epley, Jed Caldwell

“More or less, sleep is what I don’t get …”

Peter Epley, an engineering major from Springfield, Va.,  helped develop the Lisanby iPad app with Matt Burton and Josh Smead.

Peter has also been one of my go-to guys this year as JMU communications has covered JMU’s first graduating class of student engineers. All year, I’ve relied on Peter and many of his fellow engineers to answer questions, pose for photos and answer engineering questions. For two years, Peter and his team have worked to develop and build a firefighting robot. Given that he’s an engineering student and he worked on the iPad app, I was amazed to learn that Peter has also been a member of the Marching Royal Dukes. How does he fit all this into 24 hours?

“I was a member of the MRDs and the JMU Pep Band for all four years here at JMU,” Peter writes. “I am an alto saxophone player and served as a drill instructor my junior and senior years. More or less, sleep is what I don’t get, but honestly, it’s what I do for fun to get away from classes and homework.”

Not surprisingly, the best part of graduating, says Peter, is “I feel like I can finally sleep more than eight hours and not regret it. I can finally take everything that I have learned and use it to make a lasting difference.” The worst part is “leaving a family of some of the most caring and innovative students, friends and faculty I have ever had,” he writes.

“JMU has helped me really see how I can make a difference and what I am capable of doing, even if it is simply on a small scale. Working through the  engineering program has been challenging, especially since we are the first class, but I think it is exciting that my class will serve a crucial role in defining what JMU engineers can do. Beyond engineering, JMU has allowed me to explore different opportunities (such as the iPad app) that I never could have thought up and executed alone. Music has also been an important aspect in my life and JMU was one of the few schools that really gave me the opportunity to still pursue a technical major without having to sacrifice my love of saxophone. For that I am truly thankful, as I have truly met some of the best people I have ever met and am glad to call many of them my friends for the rest of my life.”

During Saturday’s graduation, Peter  will receive a bachelor’s of science in engineering with minors in math and computer information systems. He will join KPMG as an IT attestation associate doing information systems consulting for federal government clients.

Coming tomorrow: Dave Stevens and Jessie Taylor….

(photo of Matt and Peter by Mike Miriello)

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