Physics and Astronomy Colloquium Series
Fall 2013


Talks are scheduled for Thursdays at 12:40 PM in Room N304 of the Science and Engineering Building, unless otherwise indicated. Pizza and beverages are served at 12:20PM.

All are welcome!



September 12

No Colloquium



September 19

Summer Student Poster Day

The department hallways will be decorated by posters by Union College physics majors who participated in summer research this year. The authors will stand by their posters to discuss their work and answer our questions while we all enjoy lunch during our first official colloquium of the new academic year.


September 26

Richie Bonventre '08

University of Pennsylvania

"Nonstandard models, solar neutrinos, and large theta 13"

Abstract: Solar neutrino experiments have yet to see directly the transition region between matter-enhanced and vacuum oscillations. The transition region is particularly sensitive to models of non-standard neutrino interactions and propagation. We have examined several such non-standard models, which predict a lower-energy transition region and a flatter survival probability for the 8B solar neutrinos than the standard large-mixing angle (LMA) model and checked whether there was any significant improvement in the fit to data, including the new measurements of large theta 13. I will give an overview of the history of past neutrino oscillation measurements and the current experiments and discuss the evidence for various models.

October 3


October 10

Christian Shultz '08

Old Dominion University

"Hadronic Physics and lattice QCD"

Abstract: I will briefly present a historical overview of the Strong Interaction beginning with Rutherford Scattering and ending with Quantum Chromodynamics, the dynamical theory of quarks and gluons. I will discuss the observed spectrum of hadrons and illustrate the patterns that led to the Quark Model as well as deficiencies in the baryon sector that motivated the modern theory of QCD. An overview of the technical difficulties associated with hadronic scale QCD will be examined at a level appropriate for a layperson. Lattice methods will be introduced as a remedy and the anatomy of a calculation discussed in a non-technical manner.

October 17

Michael Ward

"Crystallization in Nanospaces: Regulating Polymorphism and Other Curiosities"

Abstract: Classical crystal growth models posit that crystallization outcomes are determined by nuclei that resemble mature crystal phases, but at a critical size where the volume free energy of nuclei begins to offset the unfavorable surface free energy arising from the interface with the growth medium. Crystallization under nanoscale confinement offers an opportunity to examine nucleation and phase transformations at length scales corresponding to the critical size, at which kinetics and thermodynamics of nucleation and growth intersect and dramatic departures from bulk phases appear. Confinement of crystal growth in nano porous glass, block copolymer and anodized aluminum oxide matrices provides a snapshot of the earliest stages of crystal growth, with insights into nucleation, size-dependent polymorphism, and thermotropic behavior of nanoscale crystals. Collectively, these investigations can increase the understanding of crystallization at deterministic length scales while suggesting strategies for controlling crystallization outcomes.

Note: This is a joint seminar with the Dept. of Chemistry and this seminar will be held in Olin 115.

October 24

Greg Hallenbeck

Cornell University

"HIghMass Galaxies: Massive, Gas-Rich Galaxies in ALFALFA"

Abstract: Over cosmic history, the most massive galaxies are believed to be the most efficient at converting their gas reservoirs into stars, and in the local universe massive galaxies are observed to be very gas poor. However, using the ALFALFA survey, we have discovered a population of galaxies which are both massive and gas-rich: some even have more mass in the form of atomic hydrogen than stars. We call these galaxies the HIghMass sample, and they represent 34 out of over 15,000 observed by ALFALFA. What are the origins of such anomalous galaxies? We propose two possibilities: first, that such galaxies have "too much gas," that is, the gas is of recent origin and has not had time to settle and form stars. Second, they have "too few stars," that there is something inhibiting the formation of stars in these galaxies. I will present a detailed investigation into the properties of two of these HIghMass galaxies, UGC 9037 and UGC 12506, in an effort to uncover the answer.


October 29


The Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science and Physics Deparments Present a joint Colloquium:

Tuesday October 29 7pm in Olin Auditorium (115)

Dr. Martin Hanczyc

Associate Professor Institute of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy

University of Southern Denmark

"Building and Characterizing Synthetic Life"

Abstract: My work is focused on understanding the fundamental principles of living and evolving systems through experimental science. To this end, I build synthetic systems where dynamic life-like properties emerge when self-assembled systems are pushed away from equilibrium. I will present an experimental model of bottom-up synthetic biology: chemically-active oil droplets. This system has the ability to sense, metabolize and the potential to evolve. Specifically, I will present how sensory-motor coupling can produce chemotactic motile droplets and may form the basis for intelligent and self-replicating materials. In addition, I am involved with a new consortium to develop a robotic interface with feedback to maintain and manipulate the non-equilibrium state of the chemical systems in real time. This represents the integration of chemical, computational, and robotic artificial life.

October 31

Joint Society of Physics Students and Chemistry Club Event

This Thursday is Halloween! Join the Chemistry Club and Society of Physics Students for Halloween science demos and snacks at the Reamer front patio during common lunch. Our demos will include jack-o-lanterns with colored flames, ectoplasm, Newtonian blob, liquid nitrogen, and helium and SF6 balloons to make our voices sound funny. Hope to see everyone there!

12:50 - 1:50 on the patio in the front of Reamer! Snacks & Drinks will be provided.




Graziano Vernizzi

Siena College

"Matrix Field Theory for RNA molecules"

Abstract: In this seminar I will describe a recent application of random matrix field theory (RMT) to the problem of RNA folding. After reviewing some elementary properties of RNA molecules, I will show the intimate connection with RMT: any RNA secondary structure can be represented by planar diagrams which are naturally interpreted as the Feynman diagrams of a suitable field theory. Moreover, the classical topological expansion of RMT induces an elegant classification of all possible RNA pseudoknots according to their topological genus. I will present some models and algorithms to predict RNA structures with pseudoknots based on this approach.




Javier Perez-Moreno

Skidmore College

"Why do I see quantum interference when I look at the bio-optical window"

Abstract: The linear and nonlinear optical performance of organic molecules is very dependent on the wavelength used to excite the molecule. Surprisingly, most our intuitive understanding of the molecular nonlinear response is based on studies performed in the off-resonance regime (where by assumption, the response is not dependent on the wavelength) or/and two-level model extrapolations (where the response is assumed to be dominated by the contribution of only one excited state). In either case, the effects of quantum interference (cancellation and enhancement of the response due to interactions between multiple excited states) are ignored. Our research indicates that such contributions are vital to understand and predict the wavelength dependence of the nonlinear response and should not be ignored: extreme variations in the nonlinear response are expected (and properly predicted) when using second-harmonic imaging techniques on biological samples.

November 25


Dieter Hoffmann

Max Planck Institute for History of Science

"Fritz Reiche"

Abstract: Fritz Reiche is one of the almost forgotten physicists of the twentieth century, although he was one of the pioneers of quantum physics. It is also not commonly known that, after his emigration, he taught at Union College from 1944 to 1946 as a lecturer and participated there in military research. The stations of his life and work were Berlin, where he was born in 1883 and completed his Ph.D. in 1913 with Max Planck, and New York City, where he lived as a refugee from Nazi Germany from 1941 onwards and died in 1969. This talk will cover the most important parts of his life as a scholar, which will reflect the history of the twentieth century and honor his significance as a researcher.

Biographical Data: Dieter Hoffmann is a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and adjunct Professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He graduated from Humboldt University in Physics (1972) and earned his PhD (1976) and habilitation (1989) there in the history of science. From 1976 to 1990 he was a Research Fellow in the history of science at the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic and subsequently at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (National Bureau of Standards) and, as a Humboldt Fellow, at the universities of Stuttgart, Cambridge, and Harvard. He is a member of the International Academy for the History of Sciences (2005) and since 2010 of the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina. His research is focused on the history of science and physics in the 19th and 20th century, in particular on biographies and institutional histories. He is currently writing a book length biography of Max Planck.

English Book Publications (Selection)):

- Einstein’s Berlin. The John’s Hopkins University Press Baltimore 2013

- The German Physical Society in the Third Reich. Physicists between Autonomy and Accomodation. Edited by Dieter Hoffmann und Mark Walker. Cambridge University Press 2011.

- One Hundred Years at the Intersection of Chemistry and Physics. The Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society 1911-2011. Walter de Gruyter Verlag Berlin 2011.

- Max Planck: Annalen Papers. Edited by Dieter Hoffmann. Verlag Wiley-VCH. Weinheim 2008.

The talk will be on Monday, November 25 in S&E N304. Pizza/soda will be at 12:20 and the talk will be at 12:40.


Schedule for Winter 2014

Schedule for Spring 2014

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Last Updated: October 22, 2013