Physics and Astronomy at JMU

Who We Are

The Physics and Astronomy Department at JMU is unique. As a large department focused on teaching and research for undergraduate education, we offer our students and faculty resources typical of a research institution in a setting more typically found in a small liberal arts institution. By dedicating these facilities to the development of undergraduates, we offer an immersive experience in a range of opportunities rare for undergraduates at any institution.


The University

James Madison University (JMU) is a comprehensive coeducational institution located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Founded in 1908, JMU now has a total student enrollment of almost 19,000. The university has been cited in numerous publications including The U.S. News and World Report, Money, Changing Times, The Guide to 101 Best Values in America's Colleges and Universities, The Black Students Guide to College, USA Today, The New York Times and Barron's, Peterson's and Yale Daily News college guides as one of the nation's best choices among undergraduate institutions. In 2011, JMU retained its place as the top rated public master's level university in the South for the 17th consecutive year in the US and News and World Report America's Best Colleges Guide.

JMU has a 12.8% minority population and a 60:40 female/male ratio. Drawing 29% of its students from other states, JMU serves a diverse student body. There were 24,000+ applications for approximately 4000 openings in the freshman class in 2011.


The Department

The integration of undergraduate teaching and research is central to the mission of Department of Physics and Astronomy. As we strive for the optimum balance of teaching and research, we are growing to be a department that is rare among undergraduate-only departments.

Ours is a large Physics and Astronomy department by any measure. In the fall of 2011, we enrolled a total of ~110 majors. According to the 2010 AIP enrollment data (the most recent available), JMU is ranked 10th among the 499 reporting undergraduate-only physics departments as measured the by numbers of graduates. The AIP 2009 survey of faculty finds that the average size of undergraduate-only physics department is 6 and for masters-granting department is 13. In the spring of 2011 we graduated 13. We have 21 full-time faculty, 16 of which are tenured or tenure-track. The size of our junior and senior classes permits offering a wide variety of electives for our students that are not often found elsewhere, even in much larger research universities where the focus tends to be on graduate education.

Yet, in spite of this size, we maintain a small department atmosphere. Without a graduate program and teaching assistants, all our classes are taught by full-time faculty. The upper-level classes are small, permitting a close relationship between faculty and students. Undergraduate students are the focus of our department.

Our faculty are outstanding researchers. Eleven of the 16 tenured or tenure-track faculty are engaged in externally funded research programs totaling over \$3.5 million. These research programs include undergraduate students in fundamental roles. Newly hired faculty are expected to obtain external funding to support their research and their students. Our students routinely present their work at regional and national meetings, publish with faculty in refereed journals and co-author patent applications. In nuclear/particle physics and astronomy, our faculty play vital roles in large international collaborations supported by active on-campus components. The programs in materials, and soft condensed matter are highly interdisciplinary, including collaborations with faculty from across the college and beyond the university. Our faculty are leaders in the university's Center for Material Science and administrators of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. This combination of extensive on- and off-campus research provides our students with opportunities for interaction with students and researchers of the highest caliber from other institutions.

This high level of research with strong on- and off-campus efforts places Physics and Astronomy at JMU among a very small number of undergraduate departments nation-wide.

There are five non-tenure-track faculty in our department. These faculty manage our teaching laboratories, prepare pre-service teachers and teach students from across the university. Among these faculty are a member of the university's Science and Mathematics Learning Center, coordinator of a Teacher-in-Residence program, and the director of the John C. Wells Planetarium, a state-of-the-art facility for education and outreach. The Planetarium formally reopened in September 2008 after a complete remodeling and upgrade totaling in excess of $1.3M.

Our research laboratories house a wide array of instrumentation and capabilities that rival or exceed that of many research institutions. In May, 2005, the department moved into the new $25.5M Physics and Chemistry Building where over $2.7M was spent on equipping our department. The equipment available includes an SEM, e-beam lithography, AFM with a nano-manipulator, x-ray spectroscopy, a 600 MHz NMR, a high-speed video camera, an extensive collection of nuclear electronics and detectors, two radio telescopes and a variety of optical telescopes, and a collection of high-end workstations for data and image analysis. We have recently acquired two 15 MeV electron linacs, a 140 KeV x-ray machine and space in the former Cancer Center at the adjacent hospital space the university has acquired. Instrumentation in the various departments in the College of Science and Mathematics are available to faculty and students throughout the college, leveraging the access to the widest possible audience. This access, for example, makes the Immersive visualization System available to our students (see for example, the double pendulum). Undergraduates gain hands-on experience with this equipment in their research, developing a broad set of laboratory skills in addition to physics fundamentals. In 2010, we benefited from over \$3.5M in external funds supporting our faculty and students.

A defining characteristic of our program is that all equipment is intended for use by undergraduates. There are no graduate students of post-doctoral assistants with competing demands that prevent our students from using the equipment. Once properly trained, students are permitted access to any of the equipment in the department. In absence of graduates students and post-docs, student interactions are with faculty. This builds a cohort of highly-skilled, well-educated students that are colleagues in our research.

A vibrant and intellectually stimulating environment for our students and faculty is also highly valued. To support this, we have an active colloquium program which brings in ~20 visitors each year. The list of visitors will usually include one or two speakers with a national reputation each year.

Outreach is another important component of our program. In addition to the newly remodeled John C. Wells Planetarium, there is an Astronomy Park on campus to facilitate star gazing for public and university groups, we have a growing metorite collection, we routinely host demonstration shows for area middle school classes and many faculty visit schools and the Harrisonburg Children's Museum.

Our menu of outreach offerings has recently been expanded by the addition of Saturday Morning Physics, a high school video contest and the Taking Astrnomy to the Market program. All these activies provide opportunites for our faculty and students to interact with younger students and the general public to raise awaerness of physics, astornomy and our program.

The six-week long Saturday Morning Physics outreach program for high school students that brought in over 50 students from as far away as Northern Virginia and the Richmond area in 2010, grew to nearly 70 in 2011 and included students from as far away as Maryland.


Our Mission

We strive to be the best undergraduate physics and astronomy department in the country. By focusing our research and teaching on undergraduates and their success, we are building a department unique in the nation. The combination of our size, facilities, faculty and many talented, hard-working students allows us to offer the opportunities and quality of a much larger research university to our undergraduates in a setting that is more typical of small liberal arts colleges. By balancing our research and teaching we strive to exploit the synergies of the combination to ensure that both are of the highest quality.