An adventurous group of Roanoke students and guests, as well as two Roanoke physics professors (Matt Fleenor and Dan Robb) took a trip to western North Carolina for the weekend of Aug. 19-21, culminating in an observation of the eclipse within the path of totality.  The end goal was to serve as the science ambassadors for the public viewing of the eclipse at the primary southern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Roanoke’s website has a preview of the trip here:
The Roanoke students making the trip were David Matheny, Andre Schneider, Eve Allen, Khenan Terry, Claire Drummond, and recent physics graduate Jacob Barfield. The pictures below show the entire Roanoke group including a number of friends and guests; Khenan, Eve’s fiance, Eve, and Jacob with the observing equipment in the background; and Dr. Robb’s beagle Ronnie before the eclipse trying on his eclipse glasses.
After rafting and tubing and enjoying the outdoors for the first two days of the trip, on the big day Aug. 21, the RC students led by David Matheny and Dr. Fleenor set up a bank of six Celestron telescopes with solar filters at the Oconaluftee visitor center to the National Park. The students observed the total eclipse through the telescopes, assisted many members of the public in using the telescopes to appreciate the experience more fully, and informed the public about different phenomena related to the eclipse.
Several students (David Matheny and Jacob Barfield) captured vivid images of the eclipse at totality, which are shown above. The first picture is David Matheny’s picture of the Sun and its corona taken through one of the telescopes; the second is David’s picture of the Sun with a filter on the telescope (blocking the corona, but showing interesting surface features of the sun, such as solar flares); the third picture is Jacob’s picture of the Sun with corona taken with his cell phone camera. Two other interesting phenomena captured by the students were the mysterious “shadow bands” which appear just before and after totality (visible if you really really squint at the white sheet in the first picture below, but clearly visible in person), and the temperature drop as the amount of sunlight decreased as the moon gradually covered the Sun, recorded in the chart in the second picture.
All in all, a great time was had by all, and the students were able to gain valuable experience in communicating exciting science and astronomy to the public.


The 2017 graduation year is special one for a variety of reasons. It is the 175th year of Roanoke College. The Physics Group at Roanoke College saw one of its largest group of graduating students ever, and more importantly, nearly 30% of those graduating physics students were from underrepresented groups: females and minorities.

According to American Institute of Physics statistics, nationwide the percentage of undergraduate physics degrees earned by female students is less than 20% of the total, lagging significantly behind the number of female students graduating with an undergraduate degree in other sciences. Also, the number of women pursuing graduate level work in physics and other technical fields, like engineering, continues to lag below 20%.  Given these nationwide trends, Roanoke Physics seems to beat those trends in a positive way. We are encouraged by the uptick in the number of female students currently majoring in and/or graduated in recent years. The 2017 graduating class had 4 female physics majors, a record in itself. Each of these four women are talented and accomplished graduates and well set on a scientific and/or a technical career.

From left to right in first row of the the picture above: Taylor Ferebee, a physics and math double major, is headed to Clemson University to pursue a Ph. D in mathematics and applied science. Rebecca Muolo, a physics major and an IT enthusiast, is headed to Mountain View, CA to make her mark at Google Inc. Linnea Kremer, former captain of Roanoke College’s women’s soccer team, is headed to University of Nottingham, U.K., to pursue her two passions; post-graduate studies in medical physics and soccer. Hanna Lyle, winner of senior physics scholar award, is headed to University of Colorado, Boulder to pursue a Ph. D in materials science a good mix of her physics and chemistry background.

I am personally thrilled to see these talented young women of science, each pursuing their passion and continuing to make big strides in STEM fields.

-Dr. Rama Bala, Associate Professor of Physics, MCSP



A group of RC physics students (left to right above, Jacob Barfield, Eve Allen, Duncan Maclean, Gretchen Michaels and Lydia Tung) visited the site of the largest, steerable radio telescope in the world, which is only three hours drive from Roanoke.  In Green Bank, WV, there are over 10 different radio telescopes in operation, including the largest of these the GBT (Green Bank Telescope).  The collecting area of the GBT could contain two full-size football fields.

Located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, which does not permit microwave ovens or even certain washer/dryers due to the output of small-frequency electromagnetic radiation, the observatory contains several radio telescopes with different purposes.  Some are used to track the positions of near-earth objects like asteroids and comets, while other telescopes are used to study the presence of molecules possibly connected to life on other planets.

Recent graduate Jacob Barfield and current students Lydia Tung, Eve Allen, Gretchen Michaels, and Duncan MacLean were even allowed to steer a smaller radio telescope with only a 100′ diameter.  The crab pulsar was the target which can easily be viewed during the day time since radio waves are not interrupted by visible radiation (think, AM/FM radio stations).  Some of the most interesting thoughts were related to the size of the GBT, the amount of radio wavelength emission that originates in space, and the possibility of life outside of our own solar system.

It was a great day for asking big questions and showed vividly how astronomical study leads us into the unknown.



RC Sophomore Liam Lambert receives Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention

May 3, 2017

Roanoke College sophomore and physics and mathematics double major, Liam Lambert, has received an Honorable mention in the prestigious Goldwater scholarship competition. He has worked on research on iron oxide nanoparticles with Dr. Rama Bala for the past year and a half. He has shown important results on the transformation and growth of these nanoparticles, […]

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MCSP Physics majors attend SPS PhysCon meeting in San Francisco

April 4, 2017

This happened back in November 2016, but is so neat that it needs to be written about on the blog! MCSP Physics Majors Josh Carr, April Raab, Jacob Barfield, Taylor Ferebee, Hanna Lyle and Connor Sampson (left to right in the picture above) attended PhysCon 2016, a quadrennial meeting sponsored by the National Society for Physics […]

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MCSP Students = Bakers?

March 15, 2017

How are Math and Baking related? Well, Tuesday, March 14, 2017 was Pi Day, a day entirely devoted to Pi = π ≈ 3.14. And, as mathematicians can also be quite “punny”, we relate “pi” to “pie”. I mean, typically they are both related to circles. Anyway, to celebrate Pi Day, the Roanoke College Math Club has […]

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Cregger > Cameron

March 6, 2017

Roanoke’s Cregger Center has a big “wow” factor. If you ask Mathematica, a software package used extensively at Roanoke, it will verify that the title “Cregger > Cameron” is true.* It may be that Mathematica is making a statement about alphabetical order, but it might be making a value judgment about the spacious new Cregger […]

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Women physics majors attend CUWiP conference at Virginia Tech

March 2, 2017

Two Roanoke College physics majors,  Morgan Heckman and Rae Galatas, along with physics faculty member Dr. Rama Bala, attended the 2017 Annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWip) held at Virginia Tech from Jan 13-Jan 15, 2017.   “The primary goal of the CUWiP conference is to help undergraduate women continue in physics by […]

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I’ve Been Pigged!

February 22, 2017

Well, it’s tough to admit, but on Feb 21, 2017, I was pigged…or, rather, my office was pigged. Why bring this up on a math blog post? Well, you may have heard about the game Pass the Pigs, which can be a very educational game in that it teaches people about probability. This game is very similar […]

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A Sign of Sports Math’s Popularity

February 8, 2017

J.K. Rowling would not be impressed, but Roland Minton was pleased with the throng clamoring for an autographed copy of his new book Sports Math. True, there was only one person in line, but he was very enthusiastic. Sports Math is a textbook for a course in sports science or sports analytics, such as the […]

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