Do Ghosts and Physics Overlap?

by rahmoeller on October 9, 2018

Back in 2009, the Pew Research Center did a survey to see how prevalent a belief in ghosts is in America. They found that about 29% of Americans said “they have felt in touch with someone who has died” and about 18% said “they have been in the presence of a ghost” (“Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” Pew Research Center. Dec 9, 2009). What do the physicists say? Well, there are quite a few articles meandering about the Internet that use the various laws of physics concerning energy to argue against the existence of ghosts or at least they argue against the idea that physics as we know it could explain the existence of ghosts. Here are a couple:

Although, according to Wikipedia (my favorite site), there is a term called ghost or ghost field that exists in the field of quantum field theory – something to do with removing extra degrees of freedom. So, ghosts do exist…right? If you want to know more about this, ask our fellow Physics professors!

But, these are all thoughts from other people. I’m writing this blog post because I want to share an experience I had recently that makes this connection between physics and ghosts very clear. Very, very clear.

On Friday, Oct 5, around 6:15PM or so, I started a tour with the Salem Museum. This was a tour unlike any other tour I’ve ever experienced. We began in the Williams-Brown House and worked our way toward (and through) the East Hill Cemetery…and we ran into ghosts all along the way. The first was a female ghost, who goes by the name Mary Jane Williams Brown (recognize the name?). Yes, she lived in the Williams-Brown House…back in the 1800’s. She died in 1895, but never really left the house.

Get the idea? So, we walked around and got to hear from different ghosts – they shared tidbits of their lives and gave us an idea of how life would have been back in the 1700’s, 1800’s, or 1900’s in Salem, VA.

It wasn’t until the 4th ghostly encounter that it happened…the mixing of physics and ghosts! This ghostly encounter consisted of three ghosts – three Salem soldiers who fought in World War I.

The soldier on the very right is one of our Physics majors, Jake Klein. He was thrilled to see his professor!! And, apparently, got to see several people from the Chemistry department right after.

I asked Jake how he ended up helping out the Salem Museum, and he said, “Oh, it’s a long story.” He went on to explain that it was one of those situations where his friend has a friend who is doing an internship with the museum. When asked, Jake said he’d be happy to help out. Did he know which ghost he was going to be from the start? Nope! When asked, he expressed an interest in World War I, but had no idea what that answer meant. But, he did a fantastic job pretending to be the ghost of a soldier during World War I who was in charge of making food for the boys. He even mentioned he was on a trip to a nearby town to try to find chocolates and cigars for the boys when he was in a car accident. It’s amazing what the Salem Museum has been able to find about these peoples’ lives!

Needless to say, physics and ghosts overlap quite nicely. Happy October!


The Number is 3

by Bala on October 3, 2018

Number 3 : That is the number of female physicists who have won the Nobel prize in physics in its 117 year history. On Tuesday Oct 2nd,  Donna Strickland, currently an Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Waterloo, Canada,  became the third female physicist to win the Nobel Prize for 2018. She was awarded for her pioneering work on “compression of amplified chirped optical pulses” she performed as a part of her doctoral work in 1985.

Image Courtesy Nobel Prize in Physics (L to R) Marie Curie (1903); Donna Strickland (2018), Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963)

The first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in physics was Marie Curie, a pioneer in nuclear radioactivity, in 1903, for her work on nuclear radiation. It took exactly another 60 years before another woman won a Nobel Prize in physics. The second recipient of the medal was Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963, for her work on structure of atomic nuclei. In 2018, Strickland won this Prize along with two other physicists Gerard Mourou and Arthur Ashkin.  Strickland’s work has resulted in important applications in the field of optical tweezers ranging from industrial to bio-medical applications using laser technologies.

An interesting article I found in was that before the Nobel Prize announcement, Strickland did not have a Wikipedia page on her, and when one wiki user tried to create a page in May it was denied with the message “ This submission’s references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article.” Strickland, it was determined, had not received enough dedicated coverage elsewhere on the internet to warrant a page”.

Did you know that there is a dedicated wiki page for ‘Bad Jokes on Other Deleted Nonsense’ (BJODN)? But a page for an accomplished scientist who also happens to be the President of the Optical Society before winning a Nobel Prize?? NAH..

-Rama Bala


An MCSP Canon

by minton on October 3, 2018

Hannah plays upright bass,
Rich plays lead guitar,
Melody, rhythm beat, melody, rhythm beat, MCSP stars.

MCSP faculty are active in a variety of ways, and music especially plays a large role in our interests. Hannah Robbins plays upright bass and sings in a band named Leftover Biscuits that plays “old-grass” music, a mix of bluegrass and old-time styles. Rich Grant was in a group named Buc9D9, consisting of a trio of Roanoke College professors. The band played rock and pop songs in various locations around town. Buc9D9 has not been active recently, but Rich is maintaining his chops, and Hannah’s got the Biscuits.

Shende’s tabla rolls,
Maggie’s oboe soars,
Melody, rhythm beat, melody, rhythm beat, MCSP scores

Anil Shende plays the table, an Indian rhythm instrument a little like a bongo. Anil can vary the pitch of his beat using hand pressure. You can often see him perform on campus as part of Diwali festivities with sitar player John Protopapas. Maggie Rahmoeller is an accomplished oboist who plays with the Valley Chamber Orchestra. Maggie is in demand in the Roanoke Valley, accompanying the Roanoke College Choir and sitting in with various other groups.

Claire sings heavenly,
Jan’s church handbells ring,
Melody, rhythm beat, melody, rhythm beat, MCSP queens

Claire Staniunas is a mainstay of Our Lady of Nazareth’s choir, often singing solos and the verses in responsorial psalms. Jan Minton is in the Salem Presbyterian Church Handbell Choir, which plays regularly in church and performs occasionally in public.

Rama kriti themes,
Robb raps physics memes,
Melody, rhythm beat, melody, rhythm beat, MCSP team

Rama Bala sings Indian traditional music, often in a format known as a kriti. Carnatic music has a long history in the region where she grew up. Dan Robb has put Physics lyrics to rap music that he composed on his computer. This puts Physics in a fun context for his students.

Perhaps this impressive collection of musical talents is why our department is so harmonious. You may be tempted to think that music provides a relaxing change of pace from our technical disciplines, but that would ignore the strong connections between music and STEM fields. Both feature a focus on intricate patterns and an appreciation for small but important improvisations within a set of common rules. We don’t believe in the “Music of the Spheres” anymore, but music is definitely a part of the MCSP canon.


Stat Crew Earns a 4.0

September 19, 2018

Stat Crew announced its fourth year of operation with a research forum in Massengill on September 12. Four students discussed their research projects, involving four different sports. Their research illustrates four sports analytics themes. Roland Minton, faculty foreman for the Stat Crew, foreshadowed the student presentations with an overview of data collection at the forefront […]

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R Beginning

August 28, 2018

The dawning of a new school year! One of the great things we do at Roanoke College is build a Habitat house. This year is the 13th time that entering students have strapped on tool belts and hammered out a new home for a Roanoke neighbor. While it was only the Habitat folks who were […]

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RC Math on the National Stage

August 14, 2018

Mathematicians in Denver, Colorado, recently experienced several examples of the enthusiasm and imagination that make mathematics at Roanoke College special. MathFest is a national meeting of the Mathematical Association of America, held this year in Denver from August 1-4. Five Roanoke College professors presented pedagogical innovations at the meeting. Chris Lee is at the forefront […]

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August 7, 2018

The 2018 MCSP department newsletter (go to Times – April 2018.pdf) includes features on two distinguished graduates from the class of 1936. They are different in many ways. One was Army, one was Navy. One was an athlete, the other collected rare books. One was a Big Man on Campus, the other lived off […]

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A Man of Many Passions

July 23, 2018

The 2018 MCSP department newsletter (go to Times – April 2018.pdf) includes features on two distinguished graduates from the class of 1936. They are different in many ways. One was Army, one was Navy. One was an athlete, the other collected rare books. One was a Big Man on Campus, the other lived off […]

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Teachers of the Year

June 7, 2018

Blaire Conner (RC Math ’08) has earned the first Fauquier County Public School’s Superintendent’s Innovator of the Year award. County School Superintendent David Jeck cited Blaire as  “a teacher who demonstrates innovation, a true growth mindset, and a 21st century approach to instruction.” Blaire teaches at Liberty High School and is known for fun activities in […]

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Lambert Featured in American Physical Society (APS) Article

May 24, 2018

Link to APS article on Liam Lambert Physics and Mathematics double major, and a winner of 2018 Goldwater Scholarship in physics  

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