The physics department faculty members at Jackson State University are active in a number of exciting fields of research:
Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects (such as stars, planets, comets, nebulæ, star clusters and galaxies) and phenomena that originate outside the Earth’s atmosphere (such as the cosmic background radiation). It is concerned with the evolution, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and motion of celestial objects, as well as the formation and development of the universe.
Atmospheric sciences is an umbrella term for the study of the atmosphere, its processes, the effects other systems have on the atmosphere, and the effects of the atmosphere on these other systems. Meteorology includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics with a major focus on weather forecasting. Climatology is the study of atmospheric changes (both long and short-term) that define average climates and their change over time, due to both natural and anthropogenic climate variability. Aeronomy is the study of the upper layers of the atmosphere, where dissociation and ionization are important. Atmospheric science has been extended to the field of planetary science and the study of the atmospheres of the planets of the solar system.
Experimental Condensed Matter Physics
Condensed matter physics is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic and microscopic physical properties of matter. In particular, it is concerned with the “condensed” phases that appear whenever the number of constituents in a system is extremely large and the interactions between the constituents are strong. The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids, which arise from the electromagnetic forces between atoms. More exotic condensed phases include the superconducting phase exhibited by certain materials at low temperature, the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic phases of spins on atomic lattices, and the Bose-Einstein condensate found in certain ultracold atomic systems.
Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics
The aim of condensed matter physics is to understand the behavior of these phases by using well-established physical laws, in particular those of quantum mechanics, electromagnetism and statistical mechanics. The diversity of systems and phenomena available for study makes condensed matter physics by far the largest field of contemporary physics. By one estimate, one third of all United States physicists identify themselves as condensed matter physicists. The field has a large overlap with chemistry, materials science, and nanotechnology, and there are close connections with the related fields of atomic physics and biophysics. Theoretical condensed matter physics also shares many important concepts and techniques with theoretical particle and nuclear physics.
Historically, condensed matter physics grew out of solid-state physics, which is now considered one of its main subfields. The name of the field was apparently coined in 1967 by Philip Anderson and Volker Heine when they renamed their research group in the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge from “Solid-State Theory” to “Theory of Condensed Matter”. In 1978, the Division of Solid State Physics at the American Physical Society was renamed as the Division of Condensed Matter Physics. One of the reasons for this change is that many of the concepts and techniques developed for studying solids can also be applied to fluid systems. For instance, the conduction electrons in an electrical conductor form a Fermi liquid, with similar properties to conventional liquids made up of atoms or molecules. Even the phenomenon of superconductivity, in which the quantum-mechanical properties of the electrons lead to collective behavior fundamentally different from that of a classical fluid, is closely related to the superfluid phase of liquid helium.
Earth science (also known as geoscience, the geosciences or the Earth sciences), is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. It is arguably a special case in planetary science, the Earth being the only known life-bearing planet. There are both reductionist and holistic approaches to Earth sciences. The formal discipline of Earth Sciences may include the study of the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere, as well as the solid earth. Typically Earth Scientists will use tools from physics, chemistry, biology, chronology and mathematics to build a quantitative understanding of how the Earth system works, and how it evolved to its current state.
Physics education refers both to the methods currently used to teach physics and to an area of pedagogical research that seeks to improve those methods. Historically, physics has been taught at the high school and college level primarily by the lecture method together with laboratory exercises aimed at verifying concepts taught in the lectures.
Unfortunately, owing to the abstract and counterintuitive nature of many of the elementary concepts in physics, together with the fact that teaching through analogies can lead to didaskalogenic confusions, the lecture method often fails to help students overcome the many misconceptions about the physical world that they have developed before undertaking formal instruction in the subject. In most introductory physics courses mechanics usually is the first area of physics that is discussed. Newton’s laws of motion, which describe how massive objects respond to forces, are central to the study of mechanics. Newton arrived at his three laws of motion from an extensive study of empirical data including many astronomical observations.
However, students frequently have preconceptions about the world around them that makes it difficult for them to accept Newton’s Laws of Motion. As an example Newton’s First Law, also known as the law of inertia, states that, in an inertial frame, a body at rest will remain at rest and that a body moving at constant velocity will continue to move with the same velocity unless a net force acts on the body. Many students hold the misconception that a net force is required to keep a body moving at constant velocity. They know that to slide a book across a table a “push” has to be exerted on the book. However, they fail to take into account that there is more than one force acting on the book when it is being pushed across the table at constant velocity. In addition to the “push” being exerted, there also is a frictional force in the opposite direction acting on the book from the tabletop. When the book moves at constant velocity those two forces balance out (add vectorially) to produce a net force of zero.
In an active learning environment students might experiment with objects in an environment that has almost no friction, for example a block moving on an almost frictionless air table. There they would find that if they start the block moving at constant speed, it continues to move at constant speed without the need for a constant “push”. It is hoped that exercises of this nature will help students to overcome their preconceived ideas about motion.