Fun With Physics and Life

by minton on December 11, 2018

I was saddened to learn that Dick Minnix died on November 28. Dick was a hero to me, and I suspect many others, and truly had a large positive effect on physics education.

I first met Dick in California at a large conference for community college math professors. Dick was there as a keynote speaker and I was there to give a much smaller talk. Which is to say that we were not of equal status. Nonetheless, Dick spotted my nametag, introduced himself and we had a great time chatting. I was very glad that my talk was well before his, because the man put on a show! You can see one of his bits – spinning a glass of water without spilling a drop – online from a Facebook post of Main Street Lexington titled “The ever-amazing Dick Minnix wowing the crowd at the Science Festival.” This shows Dick at 80 years young!

In California, one of his routines was based on mirrors and had him flying – you can see a very brief piece of this in the Roanoke College Medalist video for Rae Carpenter, at the 2:52 mark. It is wonderful! Minnix and Carpenter were both Roanoke College graduates who became physics professors at VMI, and their “Dick and Rae” shows entertained and inspired countless students and non-students. Their book Dick and Rae Physics Demo Workbook is a thick treasure trove of clever illustrations of physics principles. I bought the book after seeing Dick’s presentation of one of the projects that uses coffee filters to investigate the effects of air resistance. This idea was central to a very successful calculus lab we used at Roanoke. Who knows how many other great classroom experiences owe their existence to the innovative minds of Rae and Dick?

As a young mathematics teacher, I looked on one side and saw painful struggles with theoretical mathematics and then looked to another side and saw Dick Minnix flying and doing loops with water. It was clear which side was having more fun, and which side students preferred. More importantly, it was clear that students were learning physics concepts while having fun. I have tried, not always very successfully, to bring as much Minnix magic into my mathematics classroom as I could.

I’m sure I speak for many others when I say thanks to Dick Minnix for making it fun!



On Beyond RC

by minton on December 7, 2018

What happens when you graduate from Roanoke College? You might be surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond RC and start poking around. Five recent MCSP grads shared their graduate school journeys on Friday, November 9.

Taylor Ferebee, David Matheny, Thomas Lux, Damian Ream, and Anderson Lidz have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, giving the audience good advice from several perspectives. Underlying themes were: (1) MCSP prepares you well for graduate school, (2) do your homework: find out about the professors and the work they do, and (3) be clear about what type of graduate program you want to enter: direct to Ph.D., Master’s with option for Ph.D., or specialized Master’s.

Each type of program was represented: Anderson did a 10-month Data Science degree that led directly to a job, Taylor is in a Master’s program that will lead to a Ph.D. program, and Thomas went straight into a Ph.D. program. David is following yet another path, having gone into a job that will pay for his graduate education.

In some ways the application process is much like applying to undergraduate schools. There’s a test to take (the GRE) and forms to fill out and essays to write. However, the stakes are higher and there are important differences. Opening conversations with recent graduates and professors is  a great way to get ideas about the places that you would like to go.


Physics SPS wins the 2018 Blake Lilly Prize.

by Bala on December 7, 2018

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) at Roanoke College has won the 2018 Blake Lilly Prize for outstanding science public outreach and awareness. This prestigious national recognition is bestowed upon only select few colleges nation-wide, about 10 or so, each year.

The award letter from SPS National Council states “Members of the SPS National Council chose your chapter for the Blake Lilly Prize, which is funded by the generous donations of Sigma Pi Sigma alumni, after carefully reviewing all of the submitted applications. Reviewers noted the quality of your chapter’s science outreach activities and were impressed with the reach and scope of your efforts. We hope your chapter feels honored and encouraged that your application was among the best.”

(Morgan Heckman (‘19), L, leads several STEM outreach events at local elementary schools; Dr. Matt Fleenor, R, is the faculty advisor for SPS outreach events. You can see a copy of the award letter pinned to the white board in the background.)

Roanoke College-Physics group has been able to lead a variety of outreach efforts over the last several years, thanks to dedicated group of students and faculty who are passionate in their pursuit of science and its reach to the general public.  Dr. Matt Fleenor, who is the program coordinator of the physics group, serves as the faculty mentor of the outstanding SPS chapter at Roanoke College. He spearheaded the RC eclipse ambassador outreach program during total solar eclipse of 2018 in North Carolina which was attended by more than 1000 people. Click on the link below to read more about our outreach work during the eclipse. (

Upon receiving the notification of the award, Fleenor had this to say to students and alumni for contributing to the outstanding work by RC-physics SPS Thanks for your efforts in making RC Physics a place known for its love of science (and especially, physics).  The Physics Group has much to celebrate in being recognized on the national level with other prestigious physics programs.  Be confident that you are a member (or alumni) of a nationally-recognized program, a program of excellence and distinction.  As I speak for all the faculty, it is a pleasure to call you our students, majors, advisees, and alumni.  Please understand that we are always seeking to make the physics group a place of excellence in learning, teaching, and research”

We are certainly thankful for the Blake Lilly Award for recognizing the outstanding work by students and faculty.




Experiential Learning in Physics: A new partnership between RC-Physics and Integer Holdings Corp.

November 14, 2018

David Moreau, a senior physics major, spent his 2018 summer pursuing an internship at Integer Holding Corp, in Salem, VA. This is a new partnership for the Roanoke physics group. His mentor, Dr. Roger Dickenson, visited Roanoke College to give a talk on ‘Metals in Medical Devices’ on Nov 1st as a part of the […]

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Do Ghosts and Physics Overlap?

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 […]

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The Number is 3

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 […]

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An MCSP Canon

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 […]

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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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