Four NOVA students from Professor Walerian Majewski Physics (PHY) 298 Undergraduate Research Honors course, who are also officers of the NOVA Chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), were invited to attend a special Physics Nobel 2015 eve celebration at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. The celebration was held on October 5. The students were delighted to meet, among other prominent physicists, three Nobel laureates John Mather, William Phillips and Adam Riess. NOVA students presented two posters on their research, as well as participated in physics demonstrations.
Vincent Cordrey and Angel Gutarra-Leon presented their research on magnetic levitation and propulsion. Phillips, a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was keenly interested in details of the current flow in their conducting levitating plate. In 1997, Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to laser cooling. His research has led other physicists to later discover a new state of matter – the Bose-Einstein condensate.
Mather also invited NOVA students to visit NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he is a senior astrophysicist, serving as the project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, a space telescope to be launched in 2018 as a successor instrument to the Hubble Space Telescope.
According to the next day’s announcement of the Nobel Committee, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics went to fundamental physics research, like those of Mather, Riess and Williams. Takaaki Kajita in Japan and Arthur B. McDonald in Canada demonstrated that elementary particles called neutrinos change identities, or oscillate between three different states. Majewski’s students regularly conduct experiments on the decay of the muon, one of 12 elementary particles, where they have to deal with two escaping neutrinos, one electronic and one muonic.
This experience was a second important success this year for Majewski’s PHY 298 class. In May, Majewski invited students Cordrey and Nathan Gaul to make presentations at the National Academy of Sciences’ Convocation on integrating discovery-based research into the undergraduate curriculum.