Union Honored as Outstanding Chapter of Society of Physics Students

Fifty-four of the society’s more than 700 chapters on campuses across the country received the designation from the national organization, based in College Park, Md.

Selection criteria include chapter involvement in local and national meetings, outreach efforts to grades K-12 and the general public, community service participation, contributions to student recruitment and retention, and interaction with the department’s alumni.

Union SPS members regularly take part in programs in the community, including an annual visit to the Schenectady’s Katharine Burr Blodgett Elementary School, part of a program with Union’s Kenney Community Center. In the fall, for instance, Hillary Bauer ’11 and Peter Bonventre ’11 showed the elementary school students how liquid nitrogen is used to rapidly freeze liquids.

Read more in the Union College Chronicle

Union Astronomy Team Organizes and Attends NSF-Sponsored Workshop at Arecibo Observatory

Union astronomers at AreciboAssociate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Rebecca Koopmann, ’89, organized the third annual NSF-sponsored ALFALFA (Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA) Undergraduate Team Workshop at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico January 11-14, 2010. The Arecibo Observatory is home to the 305-m diameter Arecibo telescope, the largest telescope in the world.

SreyNoch Chin ’12 and Schuyler Smith accompanied Koopmann to the workshop, joining a selected group of 18 undergraduate students and 14 faculty members from 16 colleges and universities across the United States to learn about radio astronomy, observing at Arecibo Observatory, and applications to the study of other galaxies.

As part of the workshop, Chin and Smith presented a poster about their Summer 2009 research project at Union.
Entitled “ALFALFA HI Observations of the NGC 5846 Group of Galaxies,” the poster describes their research on a concentration of galaxies within the ALFALFA survey area to determine how their proximity has influenced their evolution. Kaitlyn O’Brien, ’11, was a coauthor of the poster.

Among other activities, Chin and Smith visited the platform suspended 450-feet above the reflecting surface of the Arecibo telescope and participated in observing runs for the ALFALFA project.

The ALFALFA project, led by astronomers Riccardo Giovanelli and Martha Haynes of Cornell, is a multiyear survey of a large area of the sky at radio wavelengths appropriate for the detection of neutral hydrogen gas in other galaxies. It is expected that more than 30,000 galaxies out to a distance of 750 million light years will be detected by the survey.

Winter 2010 Colloquium Schedule

Colloquia are held on Thursdays at 12:40pm in Room N304 of the Science and Engineering Center, unless otherwise noted. Pizza and soda are provided at 12:15. All are welcome.

14-Jan Dr. Harry Ringermacher, General Electric Global Research Center, Why does the Hubble Classification of Spiral Galaxies Correlate Poorly with their Arm Angle-of-Pitch ?

Since Hubble himself classified spiral galaxies according to arm sweep and bulge size (Sa, Sb and Sc types representing increasing sweep with decreasing bulge), one might naturally expect that the carefully measured angle-of-pitch of arms in spiral galaxies should correlate very well with Hubble Type. In fact, ever since Danvers plotted arm-pitch vs Hubble Type in 1942 to recent measurements by Kennicutt and Seigar, little or no correlation has been found. We prove there are two root causes: 1) misclassification of galaxies, and, most critically; (2) the assumption that “average pitch”, used by all astronomers in measuring galaxy pitch, is a good correlation parameter. We introduce a new formula that describes the natural pitch variation of all spiral galaxies dependent only on a single “pitch-parameter”. The pitch parameter of our formula, for the first time, produces an excellent correlation to Hubble Type in a study of 21 galaxies. Representative examples of fitted galaxies will be shown.

7-Jan Dr. Sarah Demers, Yale University, Hunting for New Physics at the LHC

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) brings a new energy frontier to particle physics with the potential for discoveries of new physics. The thousands of physicists collaborating on the LHC experiments are in the final stages of preparation for the 2010 run and are analyzing the collisions that began in December, 2009. In this talk I will introduce the LHC and the ATLAS experiment and discuss some of the ways in which we hope to add to our understanding of the fundamental particles and forces in nature.

4-Feb Mark Kostuk Using Chaotic Synchronization for Nonlinear State and Parameter Estimation: Theory and Applications from Bird-Brains to Barotropic Vorticity.

Nonlinear systems abound in nature; unfortunately when studying such systems it is usually only possible to measure an incomplete portion of its dynamical state. Due to the possible existence of chaos in the dynamics, this presents the researcher with a problem if they have a representative model of the system and wish to use these measurements to uncover information about any of its unknown parameters. Alternatively, what if the exact underlying physics of the system are known and one would like to predict its future behavior; this is only possible if one has complete knowledge of its current state. In this talk I will discuss this general problem, why standard estimation techniques may fail, and how we use the phenomena of chaotic synchronization -in the form of an optimization problem- to gain a complete estimate of the state and any unknown parameters of a nonlinear system from incomplete data. I will demonstrate its successful application to a wide variety of nonlinear problems, from neuron models of the vocal center of the zebra finch to simplified fluid-dynamics models of the ocean. In addition, this method can be used to filter noisy measurements, and to provide a measure with which to choose between competing models. Crucially for large problems, such as weather forecasting, it is also possible to determine the number of measurements that are necessary for such estimations to be successful.

11-Feb Matt Martin ’06 RPI Title TBA

4-Mar Alex Handin ’10 Senior Thesis Research Presentation

Union Astronomers Present at 2010 American Astronomical Society Meeting in Washington DC

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Rebecca Koopmann, ’89, and Physics major Katelyn O’Brien, ’11, traveled to the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C., Jan 5-7, to present the results of their research on the gas properties of galaxies, as traced by radio observations at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. O’Brien presented a poster with Union co-authors SreyNoch Chin, ’12 and Schuyler Smith entitled “ALFALFA HI Observations Of The NGC 5846 Galaxy Group,” reporting the gas properties of galaxies located in an intermediate density region of the ALFALFA survey area.

Koopmann presented two posters. “ALFALFA HI Content and Star Formation of Early-type Dwarfs in The Virgo Cluster,” with coauthors R. Giovanelli & M. P. Haynes of Cornell University, B. R. Kent of the National Radio Astronomy Observatories, and N. Brosch of Wise Observatory and Tel Aviv University, describes Koopmann’s work on gas and star formation in low-mass galaxies in a dense environment. Koopmann’s second poster “The Undergraduate ALFALFA Team” with coauthors S. Higdon of Georgia Southern University, T. J. Balonek of Colgate University and M. P. Haynes and R. Giovanelli of Cornell University reported results from the first two years of the NSF-sponsored grant program that encourages undergraduate activities within the ALFALFA program. More than 50 undergraduates across the United States have participated so far. Activities include annual workshops (organized by Koopmann) and observing runs at Arecibo Observatory as well as summer and academic year research programs.