All posts by chad orzel

Union Joins NASA NY Space Grant Program

Union College was invited this year to become an affiliate member of the NASA NY Space Grant consortium, a program to support and enhance science and engineering education at 20 institutions across NY State. The program sponsored summer research projects by three Union students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The program also makes Union students eligible for internships at NASA centers and at industrial partners across the country.

John Robens ’09 worked with Prof. Rebecca Koopmann on a project titled “Searching for Optical Counterparts of Galaxies and Tidal Streams Detected by the ALFALFA Survey.” He analyzed optical images from the Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile, via the Small and Moderate Aperture Research Telescope System, to search for visible-light signs of galaxies detected at radio wavelengths by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

David Barker ’09 and Daniel Barringer ’11 used the Union College Observatory 20-inch telescope in their research with Professor and Observatory Manager Francis Wilkin. Both projects used the telescope to monitor small changes in the light from distant stars. Barringer’s project, “Searching for Eclipses of Extrasolar Planets,” used the telescope to look for a slight dimming of the light from a distant star as a planet orbiting that star passes between it and Earth. Barker’s project, “CCD Photometry of Variable Stars and Transiting Planets,” is aimed at tracking how the light output of variable sources changes in time.

For more details, see the Union College Chronicle.

Prof. Orzel Speaks at Science in the 21st Century Meeting

Prof. Chad Orzel gave an invited talk at the Science in the 21st Century conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics on September 8th. The meeting was an international, interdisciplinary conference discussing the interaction between science and society, and the ways in which not information technologies are changing that interaction.

Prof. Orzel’s talk was titled “Talking to My Dog About Science: Weblogs and Public Outreach,” a reference to his forthcoming popular-audience book on quantum mechanics. The full presentation can be viewed on the web via the Perimeter Institute Recorded Seminar Archive collection for the conference.

Physics Students Win Prizes

Steve Po-Chedley ‘08

Union’s annual Prize Day was held on May 3, 2008, and several students from the Department of Physics and astronomy earned honors from the college.

Senior Physics major Steve Po-Chedley earned top honors, winning the Frank Baily Prize, awarded annually to “the senior who has rendered the greatest service to the College in any field.” Steve was honored for his many accomplishments in the areas of environmental activism and sustainability advocacy, including his impressive efforts at launching the campus-wide recycling program. Steve also received a Meritorious Service Award from the Student Affairs Council.

Bilal Mahmood ’08 was also honored, sharing the Ronald M. Obenzinger Prize, awarded to “premedical students who are selected for high academic merit and personal worthiness” with Syed Hussnain. Bilal was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa along with fellow senior Physics/ Math double major Richie Bonventre ’08.

Finally, sophomores Brandon Bartell and Ben Miles shared the James Henry Turnbull Prize, awarded annually to “the outstanding student(s) in the sophomore class in physics.”

Congratulations to the Physics winners, and all the exceptional students honored at Prize Day!

Prof. Maleki Wins Chili Cook-Off

Prof. Seyffie Maeki’s vegitarian chili was the winner of the first annual Physics and Astronomy Chili Cook-Off on Feb 14th. He narrowly edged out Prof. LaBrake’s spicy venison chili, in voting by students attending the departmental pot-luck luncheon.

Allegations of ballot-box stuffing by students in Prof. Maleki’s class were unconfirmed as of press time.

The next departmental pot-luck luncheon will be a St. Patrick’s Day/ Easter luncheon on March 11th, at noon in the departmental office. All are welcome.

Surman Paper Published in Physical Review C, Featured in Physical Review Focus

A paper by a team of researchers including Union Prof. Rebecca Surman has been featured in the March 20th, 2008 issue of Physical Review Focus. The paper, “Fission Cycling in a Supernova r Process” by J. Beun, G. C. McLaughlin, R. Surman, and W. R. Hix appeared in the March 2008 issue of Physical Review C, one of the top journals in physics. It presents new calculations of the formation of heavy elements in supernovae, and is described as “one of the most complete [models] to date.”

Physical Review Focus is an online journal produced by the American Physical Society highlighting approximately one paper per week from the Physical Review journals, and presenting an explanation suitable for students in all fields of physics.

Amanuel Presents Paper at March Meeting

Samuel Amanuel from the Department of Physics and Astronomy (in collaboration with Sanford Sternstein of RPI) presented their paper on “Enthalpic Relaxation of Silica-Polyvinyl Acetate Nanocomposites” at the American Physical Society meeting in New Orleans, March 10-14, 2008. Their thermal measurements on glassy polyvinyl acetate revealed that nano silica particles reduced the extent of relaxations in the polymer. This could imply that nano particle can alter the ageing mechanism of polymers and improve their shelf life.

The annual March Meeting of the APS is the largest physics conference of the year. This year’s meeting was held in New Orleans, LA, with more than 7,000 paper presented by speakers from all over the world.

Chili Cook-Off Feb. 14

Because nothing says “romance” like a big pot of spicy stew, the Department of Physics and Astronomy will hold a chili cook-off this Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th. Faculty members will cook their best chili recipes, and students and faculty are invited to taste them all and vote for their favorite.

The cook-off will be at noon, in the break room, just off the Department office. Bring your appetite!

Focus the Nation Teach-In Event

Students, faculty and staff will join more than 1,500 campuses nationwide Thursday, Jan. 31 for the “Focus the Nation” teach-in for global warming designed to mobilize people beyond the discussion level to demand real solutions.

Focus challenges 50 faculty members on each campus to spend 10 minutes discussing sustainability in their classrooms.

Campus-wide activities kick off Wednesday, Jan. 30 with a live, one-hour Webcast of “The 2% Solution” in the F.W. Olin Center Auditorium at 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Audiences will be invited to weigh in with cell phone voting.

[Physics major] Steve Po-Chedley ’08 is coordinating Union’s student events. He has created a Web site,, which includes links to sustainability efforts on campus, a sign-up form and a list of participating faculty.

“This event not only encourages faculty to demonstrate a commitment to and foster an awareness of these imminent problems, it will allow them to reach out to a great deal of students on campus, shedding light on issues of sustainability and climate change,” Po-Chedley said.

(Read the full artilce in the Union College Chronicle.)

Luncheon 10/30/07

The Department of Physics and Astronomy will have a potluck luncheon on October 30th. In honor of Halloween, the dishes for the luncheon should be scary, or at the very least, orange.

Planned dishes include chili, Thai chicken, and roast turkey (which isn’t all that scary, but what can you do?). Lunch will be at noon in the department lounge. All are welcome.

Physics 100 Dinner

Physics 100 Dinner

On October 25th, students and faculty from the First-Year Seminar (Physics 100) class went to dinner at Sitar, a local Indian restaurant and department favorite. Eleven of the twelve students, and four of the five faculty came to dinner, and feasted on reshmi kebab, lamb vindaloo, chicken tikka masala and the ever-popular “special naan.”