National Science Foundation Funds Further Lightning Research

UM professors studying the mysteries of how lightning starts

Thomas Marshall (pictured) and Maribeth Stolzenburg, a pair of University of Mississippi professors of physics and astronomy, have been granted two National Science Foundation awards to study lightning initiation.Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Science has revealed several fascinating things about lightning. For instance, a lightning flash can heat the surrounding air to temperatures around 50,000 degrees – five times hotter than the sun’s surface.

Lightning bolts roar toward the ground at speeds of 200,000 mph. And an American has about a one-in-14,600 chance of being struck by lightning during an 80-year lifetime.

Questions remain about lightning, though, including how lightning starts, and that’s a secret two University of Mississippi professors are working on unraveling.

Two recent National Science Foundation awards will assist the scientists – Thomas Marshall, professor of physics and astronomy, and Maribeth Stolzenburg, research professor of physics and astronomy – as they pursue the mysteries of lightning initiation.

Knowing how lightning begins could lead to a better understanding of where it might strike and being able to better warn people of approaching weather conditions conducive to lightning strikes. Marshall and Stolzenburg are not working on predicting lightning strikes, as the first question to answer is: How does lightning initiate?

“We’re going to try to get a better understanding about how lightning starts, and then how it moves through the cloud,” Marshall said. “But the starting part is especially interesting because air is not a conductor and when you see the big, bright … return stroke of a lightning flash, that’s a big current and it needs a good conductor.

“How a lightning flash can change a thin path of air from a non-conductor to a conductor has eluded explanation for a long time.”

Stolzenburg said scientists have to have puzzles, and “one of those puzzles is that we’ve known that lightning has existed forever, but all the detailed physics of what has to happen to get that started … is really poorly understood.”

“In terms of why should society care about this research, the answer is: Better understanding of lightning processes may allow us to better predict when lightning will happen or at least understand where it’s going to happen,” she said. “Being able to do that means we may eventually be able to give better warnings about when to get off the golf course or the soccer field.”

Marshall is principal investigator of an award that is for $154,222 for its first year and titled “Lightning Initiation and In-Cloud Electromagnetic Activity in Mississippi Thunderstorms.” Stolzenburg is the co-principal investigator for the award, No. 1742930. Expected future NSF support for the award is $95,419 each year in 2019 and 2020.

The second award is titled “Collaborative Research: High-Speed Slitless Spectroscopy Studies of Natural Lightning Flashes” and is for $154,476 for its first year. Stolzenburg is principal investigator for the award, No. 1745931, and Marshall is co-principal investigator. The award is a continuing grant with an estimated total award amount of $440,314. 

The second project is a collaboration between Ole Miss and Texas A&M University professor Richard Orville and will collect new lightning data, including high-speed video data and lightning spectra.

Thomas Marshall, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Mississippi, captured this lightning strike in New Mexico. Two new National Science Foundation awards are allowing Marshall and Maribeth Stolzenburg, research professor of physics and astronomy at UM, to further study lightning initiation. Photo courtesy Tom Marshall

“Lightning is one of the most dramatic natural events, observed through countless generations, but it’s still not fully understood,” said Josh Gladden, UM interim vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “Drs. Marshall and Stolzenburg have deep expertise in lightning initiation, and this NSF grant will help them take our knowledge to the next level.”

The first award allows the duo to analyze data collected in the spring and summer of 2016 in north Mississippi, also funded by the NSF. That award was granted after Marshall and Stolzenburg conducted lightning studies at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2010 and 2011.

In the summer of 2016, lightning data was collected at seven sites in north Mississippi. One of the sites was at the UM Field Station, and another was on the Ole Miss campus.

The data collected is some 20 terabytes of computer memory, enough to max out the storage capacity on about 312 iPhone Xs with 64-gigabyte storage capacities.

The lightning data is on a time scale of less than one-millionth of a second.

The second award will collect new data on lightning initiation using three high-speed video cameras and the seven sensors. The data collection will focus on the initial sparks (with durations of only 5- to 60-millionths of a second) that occur during the time needed to form the lightning channel, roughly the first 3- to 10-thousandths of a second of a lightning flash.

The video cameras will record the initial pulses as they develop.

“Essentially, we are trying to understand all this fine detail in the lightning data to see if it fits with the theories of how lightning starts,” Stolzenburg said. “Or, if it doesn’t fit, then there is something wrong with the theory, so we need to modify the theory.

“Eventually, we need to understand how a flash is able to go from initiation to a conducting channel that travels to ground. Fortunately, we have a lot of lightning data collected in 2016, including data from traditional lightning sensors and from new lightning sensors, to help us investigate how lightning initiation works.”

According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, from 2006 through 2017, 376 people were struck and killed by lightning in the U.S., with almost two-thirds of the deaths involving outdoor leisure activities such as fishing, being on the beach, camping, boating, or playing soccer or golf.

UM Graduate Programs Highly Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Business school finishes No. 53 among public institutions

The University of Mississippi School of Business is tied for No. 53 among public institutions in the 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi offers 14 graduate programs ranked in the Top 100 among public institutions. Seven programs joined the ranks of the Top 100 in the recent 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings, adding to seven other UM graduate programs that were previously ranked.

UM graduate programs ranked in the Top 100 are:

Online graduate programs at UM ranked in the Top 100:

  • online MBA (No. 20)
  • online education (tied for No. 35)

The business program performed exceptionally well in the 2019 edition of the rankings, finishing in a tie for No. 53 among public institutions.

“We are excited for the recognition of our MBA program, and this ranking is a testament to the quality of our faculty and the outstanding educational experience that we provide for our students,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration. “We continue to create opportunities for student success and offer an excellent value in the marketplace for students aspiring to receive an MBA.”

Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report named the university’s online Master of Business Administration as one of the best in the nation, ranking No. 20 nationally, and the Ole Miss online graduate education programs tied for No. 35 among public institutions.

The School of Law is tied for No. 54 among public institutions in the 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

“We’re pleased to see many of UM’s graduate programs ranked nationally,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said. “As we continue our focus upon preparing the next generation of leaders for challenges on a national and global stage, these rankings provide important benchmarks for us to highlight and measure our successes.

“Through our outstanding faculty and collaborative research opportunities, we are committed to fostering excellence in graduate education and to growing our reach and impact.”

The new rankings arrive a year after U.S. News & World Report graduate program rankings for history, English and political science placed each of those UM programs in the Top 100 for public institutions.

In the 2018 edition of the rankings, the UM graduate program in history cracked the Top 40 for the first time, tying for No. 38 among public institutions.

The English program tied for No. 40 among public universities.

The political science graduate program entered the rankings for the first time and tied for No. 59 among public institutions.

Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration, said the school’s high ranking in the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings is a testament to its faculty and educational experience. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

In the 2017 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings, the Ole Miss pharmacy program ranked No. 23 among public institutions, and the university’s clinical psychology graduate program tied for No. 67 among public institutions.

“The institution has focused on enhancing graduate education, and we are so pleased that our excellent programs have garnered this level of recognition,” said Christy M. Wyandt, interim dean of the Graduate School.

In four of the last five years, the university also has improved its overall U.S. News & World Report Top Public Schools ranking. In the 2018 edition, UM was tied for No. 73 among top public schools.

The 2019 edition of the rankings rates programs in business, law, medicine, nursing, engineering and education, among others. According to U.S. News, the ranking methodology varies by discipline, taking into account factors that may include test scores of entering students, job placement rates and starting salaries of recent graduates, academic quality ratings by officials at peer institutions, and opinions of hiring managers.

Nanomedicine Topic for Semester’s Final UM Science Cafe

Chalet Tan to discuss how nanotechnology is transforming diagnosis, imaging and treatment of diseases

Chalet Tan

OXFORD, Miss. – The use of nanotechnology in the diagnosis, imaging and treatment of human diseases is the topic of the University of Mississippi’s next monthly Science Cafe.

Chalet Tan, associate professor of pharmaceutics and drug delivery and research associate professor in UM’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, will discuss “NanoMedicine: Less is More” Tuesday (April 24) at the fourth and final Science Cafe of the semester. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Admission is free.

Tan’s 30-minute presentation will explore how nanoscale drug delivery systems can improve the efficacy of anticancer drug therapies while minimizing their detrimental side effects, a research area being pursued in her laboratory.

“Nanomedicine is transforming the detection, diagnosis and treatment of human disease,” she said. “Fifty years ago, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman proposed the concept of the nanosurgeons and nanodevices, where he urged researchers to develop nanosystems capable of interacting with the body at the cellular and molecular level.

“Today, nanotechnology has become a vital force behind the development of nanomaterials and their applications in medicine.”

Tan’s talk should be most interesting, said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and organizer of the Science Cafe programs.

“Dr. Tan’s research is timely and engaging,” Cavaglia said. “She is a highly recognized scientist and her research on nanomedicine is published in top journals.

“Dr. Tan enjoys transmitting her research in a way that appeals to the general public. We are going to have fun and I hope that many people come to know her and enjoy her presentation.”

A postdoctoral fellow in cancer biology and therapeutics at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, Tan earned her doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Georgia. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Shanghai Medical University (now Fudan University) in China.

Tan’s primary research interest in her laboratory focuses on the synthesis and evaluation of novel long-circulating nanocarriers for the delivery of microRNAs and small-molecule anticancer drugs. By combining approaches in pharmaceutical sciences and cancer biology, she aims to construct robust nano-sized drug delivery systems with broad applicability to improve the efficacy of anticancer agents.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.

University Sets STEM Fest for Weekend

Multiple open houses, demonstrations and lectures planned for Friday and Saturday

OXFORD, Miss. – In celebration of scientific investigation and its benefits and in support for publicly funded science, the University of Mississippi is hosting a two-day focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics this weekend.

The university’s STEM Fest, scheduled for Friday (April 20) on the Oxford campus and Saturday (April 21) at the UM Field Station, is co-sponsored by several STEM entities on campus, the College of Liberal Arts, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and the Office of the Chancellor. All events are free to the public.

“The promotion of STEM education is at the forefront of plans for the future at the University of Mississippi,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and one of the co-organizers of the weekend.

“This festival will celebrate achievements in all areas of STEM,” said Jan Murray, professor of art and another festival co-organizer. “The Oxford community and K-12 families are especially welcome.”

Scheduled activities begin at 2 p.m. Friday with a panel discussion on opioids at the Overby Center Auditorium. That will be followed by open houses at the department of Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, and Chemistry and Biochemistry; the School of Engineering; the National Center for Physical Acoustics; and Kennon Observatory.

The Society of Physics and Astronomy Students will showcase the “physics of baseball” from 3 to 5 p.m. at Swayze Field, before the evening Ole Miss vs. Georgia game. The presentation will include explanations of why curve balls curve, how to hit a perfect home run and more.

A screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” with an introduction by the UM Women in Physics group begins at 5 p.m. at the Overby Center Auditorium.

An astronomy open house concludes the day’s activities from 8 to 10 p.m. at Kennon Observatory. Faculty members from the Department of Physics and Astronomy will host viewings of the moon, Jupiter and interesting celestial objects, weather permitting.

Events scheduled Saturday at the field station include a science research conference with talks, poster presentations and more demonstrations. Tom Marshall, professor of physics and astronomy, will discuss his lightning research at 10:40 a.m., and science demonstrations are scheduled for 2:30-3:30 p.m.

University Museum will present a self-guided tour of the Millington-Barnard Collection of Scientific Instruments both days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The weekend’s events are designed to promote the core values and benefits of science.

“My hope is that people with similar interests will discuss possible areas of common interests and potential collaboration,” said Marjorie Holland, professor of biology and one of the organizers of Saturday’s events. “Anyone who is interested in learning what research is conducted at the field station is invited to attend.”

For more information and updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/UMSTEMFest.

Students Study Physics During UM Spring Break Visit

Project prepares high school students for AP Physics

Marco Cavaglia, a UM professor of physics and astronomy, spends his spring break educating Mississippi high school students about physics as part of a Global Teaching Project program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – It was probably the first time Yung Bleu’s hip-hop had been used to teach physics.

Yet, in Marco Cavaglia’s University of Mississippi classroom during spring break, the artist’s music played, causing the electronic waves of an oscilloscope to bounce and jiggle with the vibrations of the music.

Huddled around the oscilloscope, learning about gravitational waves through the Alabama artist’s work, stood 28 Mississippi high school students from rural school districts, visiting the Ole Miss campus during spring break as part of a Global Teaching Project program.

The program is an initiative to provide potentially high-achieving secondary school students, regardless of their circumstances, access to the quality teaching they need to fulfill their potential, with an initial focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, said Matt Dolan, founder and CEO of the Global Teaching Project.

For the 2017-18 school year, the project has worked with the Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access to implement a three-year pilot program to teach Advanced Placement Physics 1 in rural, low-income areas with high schools that did not previously offer the course and where shortages of qualified teachers are most acute. The subject was chosen largely based on assessments by Mississippi educators of their most pressing curricular needs.

“Multiple studies show significant benefits from taking AP classes,” Dolan said. “Students who do well on the exams significantly boost their college admission prospects, and possibly save money through expanded college scholarship opportunities and the ability to earn college credit without taking college courses.

“Studies also show that all students, even those with modest test scores, tend to benefit from exposure to advanced material and by developing the study skills to handle rigorous material.”

According to the College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the AP Program, more than 2.6 million U.S. students took an AP exam in 2017, but in Mississippi, only 10,580 students took such an exam. Only 527 Mississippi students took the AP Physics 1 exam in 2017, with only 175 passing.

Students from consortium high schools in Aberdeen and Booneville, and Coahoma (Coahoma Early College High School), Holmes, Pontotoc, Quitman and Scott counties participated in the spring break program.

The AP Physics 1 course is provided at no cost to students, schools or school districts. Funding for the consortium comes entirely from the private sector.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which is focused on promoting educational opportunities for promising students from underserved areas, provided significant support to the consortium, Dolan said, and the Global Teaching Project has borne much of the costs itself.

Although the AP class features numerous online components, it is not an online course. The lead instructor is Meg Urry, a professor of physics and astronomy at Yale University, who teaches primarily via asynchronous video but also has come to Mississippi to teach students in person.

Students also are instructed through textbooks, online resources, physics majors from Yale and the University of Virginia who tutor through video conferences and virtual whiteboards, and on-site teachers.

The Global Teaching Project plans to add more AP courses and school districts for 2018-19.

The students who visited the Ole Miss campus during spring break came for a number of reasons, Dolan said. There was the objective of providing additional academic support and reviewing the AP Physics 1 material as the May exam date nears. The visit also provided younger, prospective students an understanding of what the course entails, and what students must do to prepare for that level of academic rigor.

And, in some small respect, the three-day visit was designed to give high school students the college experience.

Undergraduate physics major Renee Sullivan-Gonzalez demonstrates the big bang to Mississippi high school students involved with the Global Teaching Project program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

“It was exciting to partner with the Global Teaching Project to improve access to higher education for some of Mississippi’s most underserved high school students,” said Robert Cummings, UM coordinator for the visit and executive director of academic innovation. “While it is painful to think that world-renowned researchers like Dr. Cavaglia are located just a few miles from high school students who might have no high school physics courses, texts or teachers, it is also equally rewarding to see the two come together.

“It is moments like these that remind me that the University of Mississippi is a special place, endowed with a powerful capability to render real change in our world.”

The visit included staying at The Inn at Ole Miss, a tour of campus, information from the Foundations for Academic Success Track and the Grove Scholars Program, a presentation from the Office of Admissions and lots of physics reviewing.

While spring break on the UM campus is typically a quieter time, a pause to recharge, reevaluate and even relax before the sprint to the spring Commencement finish line, students spent part of their visit learning about physics from Cavaglia, a professor of physics and astronomy and principal investigator of the UM Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Group. The LIGO Group – as it is known – is an active member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Late last year, the LIGO Group, along with the Europe-based Virgo detector and some 70 ground- and space-based observatoriesdirectly detected gravitational waves – ripples in space and time – in addition to light from the merging of two neutron stars. It was the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light.

To demonstrate how gravitational waves are detected, Cavaglia asked for some music from the students, and Bleu was cued up. With Bleu’s music playing, rain beat down outside Brevard Hall, reminding everyone that spring break arrives at the tail-end of winter, but the students did not notice – their minds were focused on Cavaglia and the oscilloscope.

“I wanted to convey to them the beauty of astrophysics, but also how the scientific process works and modern science operates,” Cavaglia said. “As an example, LIGO’s discoveries were only possible thanks to the work of over 1,000 people from many countries all working together to achieve this goal for many decades.”

The morning’s lesson did not end with gravitational waves.

Cavaglia, with assistance from physics graduate student Lorena Magana Zertuche and undergraduate physics major Renee Sullivan-Gonzalez, also demonstrated what a black hole is, worked in references to “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” when discussing warping space, and offered students career advice. They even discussed how a physics education could lead to working for Pixar Animation Studios, creator of such films as “Ratatouille,” “Up” and the “Toy Story” franchise.

Sure, Cavaglia could have been busy during spring break furthering his groundbreaking research, but as a scientist, he said it was very important to talk to students and let them know what he does.

“I always felt outreach is an essential part of the education process,” Cavaglia said. “Moreover, explaining current astrophysics research to students may help with recruiting in the sciences.

“Across the U.S., but especially in Mississippi, there is a shortage of scientists and I, as a physicist, should use my resources and time to try to remedy this.”

Whether it was hearing the “chirp” that a gravitational wave creates or answering questions about dark matter and the big bang, Cavaglia kept the students enthralled, including Diem Mi Pham, an 11th-grader at Scott Central High School.

“Oh, it was really interesting,” she said. “I’m very interested in space, and he discussed a lot of things I really care about.”

Neuroscientists Scheduled for UM Science Cafe, Brain Awareness Week

Psyche Loui and Alexander Ophir to discuss varied topics during visit

Psyche Loui

OXFORD, Miss. – Two renowned neuroscientists are scheduled to give three lectures April 3-5 in Oxford and at the University of Mississippi.

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior and integrative sciences at Wesleyan University, will discuss “Why Do We Enjoy Music?” on April 3 at the third monthly Science Cafe of the semester, organized by the UM Department of Physics and Astronomy. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 N. Lamar Blvd. Admission is free.

As part of Brain Awareness Week, Loui will lecture on “Your Brain on Music: The Neuroscience of Musical Perception” at 2 p.m. April 4 in Lamar Hall, Room 129. Alexander G. Ophir, assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University, will discuss “What’s Love Got to Do with It: The Myths and Mysteries of the Monogamous Praire Vole” Thursday at 4 p.m. that day in Lamar Hall, Room 129.

Books related to the topics will be given away among audience members at each lecture.

Ophir was invited to Ole Miss by Lainy Day, director of the neuroscience minor. He will participate in the neuroscience research showcase April 6 on campus.

Brain Week sponsors include the Office of Research and Sponsor Programs, College of Liberal Arts, School of Applied Sciences, Graduate School and the neuroscience minor program.

Loui’s 30-minute Science Cafe presentation will explore what musical behavior tells us about emotion and creativity.

“What gives some people a chill when they are moved by a piece of music?” Loui said. “How does connectivity in the brain enable or thwart musical perception? Can music be used to help with psychiatric and neurological disorders?”

To address these questions, Loui conducts research in her Music, Imaging and Neural Dynamics Laboratory.

Ophir’s discussion will focus on how the brain regulates social behavior, mating decisions and monogamy.

“Social interactions involve social recognition, care-giving, aggression or partner selection, as well as key hormones such as oxytocin,” he said. “My research uses an animal model and a multilevel approach – from genes to behavior – to better understand the social brain.”

UM administrators and professors said both appearances should be most interesting.

“Every year, neuroscientists find new evidence that show how our behavior is related to the function of specific circuits in the brain” said Alberto Del Arco, assistant professor of exercise science and a scientist in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences at the UM Medical Center. “The two talks that we have on our campus during the Brain Awareness Week are a good example of it.

“I am sure that both speakers are going to make these topics appealing and easy to understand for everyone. I would like to encourage everyone to join us and have fun learning about our brain.”

Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy, agreed.

“I’m happy we can have again a joint science cafe event with Brain Awareness Week,” Cavaglia said. “Last year, we had a great lecture on how our brain perceives vision. This year, we will learn about how the brain perceives music.”

Alexander Ophir

Loui earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and music and a certificate in neuroscience from Duke University, and a doctorate in psychology, with specialization in cognition, brain and behavior, from the University of California at Berkeley. Before joining the faculty at Wesleyan, she was instructor in neurology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School.

Loui has published in the journals Current Biology, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, NeuroImage, Frontiers in Psychology, Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, Music Perception, Annuals of the New York Academy of Sciences and others. For her research on music and the brain, she has been interviewed by The Associated Press, CNN, WNYC, the Boston Globe, BBC Radio 4, NBC News and CBS radio and The Scientist magazine.

Ophir received his doctorate from McMaster University and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas. Before joining the Cornell faculty, he worked at Oklahoma State University and the universities of Florida and Memphis.

His intergrative neuroethology lab explores existing individual variation in behavior and the underlying mechanisms involved in prosocial behavior, such as partner fidelity; anti-social behavior, such as territory defense; socio-spatial cognition, including social recognition and spatial memory; mating decisions, such as alternative reproductive tactics; and fitness, including offspring survival.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about UM’s Brain Awareness Week, visit http://www.dana.org/BAW. For more information about neuroscience studies at UM, go to http://neuroscience.olemiss.edu and https://brainstorm267.wordpress.com/.

 

Usefulness of Math Topic of February Science Cafe

UM professor Sandra Spiroff to discuss applications of mathematics

UM mathematics professor Sandra Spiroff explains complex mathematical equations in the classroom. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Practical uses for mathematical concepts is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s second meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 20) at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 W. Jackson Ave. Sandra Spiroff, UM associate professor of mathematics, will discuss “When are we ever going to use this?: Some Applications of Mathematics.” Admission is free.

“In 1623, Galileo Galilei wrote, ‘Philosophy is written in this grand book (meaning the universe), which stands continually open to our gaze, but cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written,'” Spiroff said. “‘It is written in the language of mathematics, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.'”

Spiroff’s 40-minute presentation will explore the mathematics behind some of our everyday experiences.

“In addition, we will use technology to model the behavior we wish to understand,” she said.

Spiroff earned her doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research area is commutative algebra, which includes the study of rings, modules, fields, groups, and the maps and invariants associated to these constructions.

She holds a five-year grant from the Simons Foundation and is an advocate for underrepresented groups in the study of mathematics, including women and minorities. Spiroff is organizing a research conference at the Banff International Research Station in Canada for the former and participating in national and regional conferences in support of the latter.

Active in the university’s globalization efforts, Spiroff will be traveling to China with a UM delegation to pursue partnerships with universities in Beijing and beyond. She is vice president of the UM Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and faculty adviser of the American Mathematical Society Graduate Student Chapter.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-5311.

Second Law of Thermodynamics Topic for January Science Cafe

UM researchers Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer to discuss mysteries of entropy

UM chemistry and biochemistry professors Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer will share ‘Harrowing Tales of Entropy’ at the monthly Science Cafe Jan. 30. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The second law of thermodynamics is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer, UM professors of chemistry and biochemistry, will discuss “Harrowing Tales of Entropy.” Admission is free.

The second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy, basically heat lost during a chemical or mechanical transformation, can never decrease in an isolated system, such as the universe. The second law puts a limit on the transformation of heat into work.

“Entropy is a mysterious phenomenon that has puzzled scientists since its discovery by Rudolph Clausius in the 1850s,” Wadkins said. “Did it drive Clausius mad? Perhaps. But it led to his development of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

“Nearly 200 years of scientists have struggled with this mind-blowing, senses-shattering physical phenomenon.”

Wadkins and Hammer’s 45-minute presentation will address several questions about the nature of entropy and how it affects everything.

“Found in refrigerators, automobiles and even our bodies, entropy will eventually destroy the universe,” Hammer said. “We can promise you one thing from this evening of thrills and sensations: you will never look at a snowflake the same way again.”

Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and the forum’s organizer, said he expects a most interesting discussion.

“I’m eagerly waiting their presentation,” Cavaglia said. “Entropy has fascinated researchers for generations, so I’m sure the general public will be fascinated as well.”

Wadkins received his bachelor’s and doctoral degree froms UM in 1986 and 1990, respectively. He held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institutes of Health, a Gesellschaft Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany, and a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

He also has been a science and technology policy fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015-16, sponsored by the Biophysical Society.

A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 1990, Wadkins’ research interests are biophysical chemistry, molecular dynamics, fluorescence microscopy and imaging, DNA structure and structural transitions, and biosensors.

Hammer received an honors bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in physical chemistry and chemical physics from the University of Tennessee in 1998 and 2003, respectively. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Massachusetts.

He joined the UM faculty in 2007 and received tenure in 2013. He was honored as an Ole Miss Faculty Research Fellow in 2008 and received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in 2010 to spectroscopically track the evolution of noncovalent interactions from the single molecule level to the condensed phases.

Hammer also directs the NSF-funded Ole Miss Physical Chemistry Summer Research Program for Undergraduates.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.

Wild Mushrooms Topic for November Science Cafe

Biologist Jason Hoeksema will discuss ecology and culinary potential of fungi

Several varieties of wild mushrooms will be discussed during the November Oxford Science Cafe. Submitted photo by Jason Hoeksema

OXFORD, Miss. – The ecology and edibility of wild mushrooms is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The fall semester’s third meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Lusa Bakery and Cafe, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Jason Hoeksema, UM associate professor of biology, will discuss “Wild mushrooms: Ecology, edibility and more.” Admission is free.

“What is a mushroom? What is its natural function for fungi? Which ones are delicious and which ones will make you ill or worse?” Hoeksema said. “In this presentation, we’ll answer all these questions.

“We’ll start with a discussion of fungal ecology, especially focusing on how fungi obtain food and the really interesting ways that fungi can change the ecology of plants and nutrient cycling.”

Hoeksema’s 45-minute presentation also will examine the role of mushrooms in the life cycles of fungi.

“Finally, we’ll discuss strategies for finding and safely enjoying wild mushrooms in northern Mississippi,” he said.

A Science Cafe organizer said Hoeksema’s discussion should be most interesting.

“I’m eagerly waiting for Dr. Hoeksema’s presentation,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy. “The world of mushrooms is so fascinating.

“When I was a kid, I spent many weekends mushroom hunting with my dad. Nowadays, when I hike in the woods of Mississippi, I’m still mesmerized by the variety and beauty of wild mushrooms.”

Hoeksema received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Davis, respectively. A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 2006, he teaches courses in ecology, evolution, statistics, microbiology, mycology and ornithology. He also occasionally leads mushroom field trips for the public.

His research addresses questions regarding the ecological and evolutionary consequences of species interactions – such as mutualism, parasitism and competition – on populations and communities, with a focus on interactions between plants and mycorrhizal fungi.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.

Physics Department Offers Ghoulish Fun

Spooky Physics Night provides frights and excitement with a side of science

An Oxford Elementary School student lies on a bed of nails as a volunteer places a weight on her while other Spooky Physics Night participants observe. Photo by Nathan Latin/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Frights, food and fun are the order of the evening when the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy presents Spooky Physics Night on Friday (Oct. 27) in Lewis Hall.

The program, which runs 7-9 p.m., includes a stage show at 7:45 p.m. Hands-on activities through the evening include freezing objects in liquid nitrogen (at minus 320 degrees), generating sound waves with Bunsen burners and tubes, and levitating magnets with superconductors. Other fun presentations include optical illusions with mirrors, a Van de Graaff generator, a bed of nails and other contraptions.

Physics department personnel also will prepare ice cream with liquid nitrogen and award prizes for the most original, scariest and cutest costumes to children 12 and under. It’s all in the name of making learning about science fun and exciting, said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and coordinator of the evening’s activities.

“We at the Department of Physics and Astronomy really look forward to this event,” Cavaglia said. “As in the past years, there will be shows and a lot of hands-on science demonstrations with a Halloween twist to experience weird physics phenomena, from electricity to heat and pressure to the ultracold.

“And to make the evening ‘sweeter,’ guests will be able to taste our world-famous liquid nitrogen ice cream!”

Parents and children should be able to find plenty to enjoy at the event, said Luca Bombelli, chair and professor of physics and astronomy.

“Spooky Physics Night is an opportunity for the public to come and enjoy what we do all the time in a relaxed and refreshing manner,” he said. “For our faculty and students alike, it’s something everyone looks forward to each October.”

Parking for the event is available near Lewis Hall in the areas alongside or behind the Turner Center and the old athletics administration building, in the Pavilion garage or in the Tad Smith Coliseum parking lot.  All vehicles must be off campus by midnight.

For more information or for assistance related to a disability, call the Department of Physics and Astronomy at 662-915-5325.