News & Updates

Allegheny Senior Has His Sights Set on the Planets and Beyond

Ever since his childhood growing up near Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, James Scarborough has had a keen interest in the nighttime sky and often considers what it would be like to explore those shiny points of light that he gazes at in wonder.

Scarborough brought his love of the stars to Allegheny College, where he is now a senior. While excelling as a student-athlete at Allegheny, he keeps his focus on the heavens and has put himself on a trajectory toward a career in space exploration.

Allegheny College senior James Scarborough works on a summer research project. (Photo by Ed Mailliard)
Allegheny College senior James Scarborough works on a research project in summer 2019. (Photo by Ed Mailliard)

Scarborough’s journey to Allegheny started when he was contacted by a football recruiter and visited the Meadville campus. He knew immediately where he would spend his time as an undergraduate.

“I loved that I had an opportunity to continue playing the sport I loved, and after talking with the professors and employees I found out about how great the education was at Allegheny,” says Scarborough, who is a physics major and astronomy and psychology minor.

“When I talked with the coaches and professors about how I would be able to study physics and play football it made my choice easy. I chose Allegheny over a few other colleges that also gave me offers to play football, but none of those schools come even close to the education standard that Allegheny sets.”

Scarborough graduated from Slippery Rock High School with a 3.6 GPA. He played football, was on the wrestling team and ran track. He also was on an Ultimate Frisbee team that played in the Pittsburgh-area semi-pro league. He enjoys fishing, camping, coaching youth sports, adventuring in nature, cooking and discussing comic book themes.

While at Allegheny, Scarborough says his goal has been to “learn as much as I can while here. I try not to worry about grades as much as actually comprehending the material so that I am able to have a solid foundation of knowledge moving forward in my career.” He says he has particularly benefited from the research experiences that Allegheny provides, which have challenged him to “solve issues and come up with new solutions moving forward.”

Scarborough worked with Jamie Lombardi, professor of physics, on research in the summer of 2019. Scarborough ran a computer code to simulate collisions of stars, and he also experimented with different ways of visualizing these collisions, Lombardi says.

Near the end of that summer experience, Scarborough co-presented his work during a lunch talk to nearly 100 student and faculty researchers from Allegheny, Lombardi says. “Afterward, several people sought me out to say how impressed they were with the talk. They commented specifically on his enthusiasm and that of his co-presenters, as well as on how understandable and fascinating the main ideas of their work were. James pursues his studies with vigor and with an inquisitive mind. It’s clear that he stays engaged with his research and is interested in probing the connections to subjects he’s studied in his courses.”

When he returns to campus for the spring semester, Scarborough will be working to complete his senior project, which involves simulations of stars colliding with black holes. He has been testing a version of the simulation code and determining how to make it as fast and accurate as possible.

“I really enjoy learning about how stars work and evolve throughout the universe,” Scarborough says. “I also enjoy learning about the ways that planets form and move in the universe. I would really like to discover a planet in my professional career one day.”

Allegheny senior James Scarborough plays football and is a Gator Guide for the Admissions Office.

Scarborough says he has adjusted well to the current hybrid learning environment. “I have not had any trouble with my classes so far,” he says. “Although I would prefer to be in the classroom all the time, having [some] classes over Zoom has been kind of fun and less stressful. I do miss hanging out in the physics lounge after class with all the physics majors, however.”

Meanwhile, the Gators’ football team has been working out and watching film, but has been unable to play intercollegiate games during Scarborough’s senior year due to the global pandemic. “I was very disappointed that we did not have a season but I was grateful for what we were able to do,” says Scarborough, who plays in the defensive backfield. “At this point I am hoping for anything just so that I can have one more go at it.”

He also is a Gator Guide for the Office of Admissions and enjoys meeting prospective students and their families. “I make it a point to talk about the high level of education that Allegheny offers for everyone no matter what major they decide on, and emphasize the low student-to-professor ratio for all the departments. I then make it a point to talk about the clubs on campus and how there seems to be an option for everyone with the vast selection of clubs.”

Scarborough is also a Gator Youth Sports Mentor, working with student-athletes in the Meadville area, and he belongs to the Society of Physics Students. When he graduates in May 2021, Scarborough says he wants to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

“I then hope to do research somewhere and eventually work for NASA,” he says. “My ultimate dream goal is to become an astronaut and go into space to do research.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Meet Doctor Sparks, an Allegheny Graduate Who Uses Stories to Teach Science to Kids

Karl Smith has a doctorate in biophysics from the University of Rochester. He also worked at Amazon as a software engineer trying to make the Alexa voice assistant smarter. But now Smith is putting his talents to better use, he says, as a children’s science storyteller. He describes his new calling as “Mister Rogers meets Bill Nye.”

Smith calls his alter ego Doctor Sparks. “Hoo boy,” he says, “there’s a story behind that. It’s not a short story though. Let me just say that I earned the name Sparks, and I earned it on a lonesome walk through the New Mexican high desert that lasted for three sleepless days.”

Allegheny graduate Karl Smith earned a doctorate in biophysics and now teaches science to children.
Allegheny graduate Karl Smith earned a doctorate in biophysics and now teaches science to children.

Smith, a 2011 Allegheny graduate, lives in the Pittsburgh area and does most of his 50-minute shows at elementary and middle schools. But he also has appeared at events such as the World Scout Jamboree 2019 and at institutions like the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

Smith also delivered a TEDx talk when he was making national news as a graduate student in Rochester writing short stories about people’s lives for 10 cents each on a vintage typewriter.

After finishing his doctorate, he spent some time developing a murder mystery smartphone app and putting together a proposed television pilot, in which he started his Doctor Sparks persona. “The basic idea was to use my typewriter-stories project as a way to teach science concepts,” Smith says.

That’s when he got the Amazon job offer. “I moved to the West Coast, became a professional software developer, took up surfing, and in my free time began to put together the live science storytelling show I now tour with,” says Smith.

A little more than a year later, he moved back to Pittsburgh with his fiancee to become a professional storyteller.

“While I was at Allegheny, I spent my summers working as a historical interpreter at a Boy Scout ranch in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of New Mexico,” Smith says. “Every night in front of a campfire, I would tell stories about what it was like to be a logger in the year 1914, and it’s there that storytelling took hold of me.”

“The best part about storytelling is when everything sings,” says Karl Smith.
“The best part about storytelling is when everything sings,” says Karl Smith.

So now Smith travels extensively, spreading scientific knowledge to youngsters as Doctor Sparks. Most of the presentations are in the Pittsburgh area; he toured Rochester and upstate New York schools in November, and in February 2020 he will tour Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Charlotte, North Carolina. He brings a number of props, including “smart” hula hoops, pogo sticks, juggling balls, teddy bears and inflating robotic muffin hats.

The science concepts he teaches include thermodynamics — particularly what heat actually is and how a hot air balloon works, motion and energy, illumination, and fractions, among other things. “Generally I pick a particular next generation science standard or common core curriculum idea, and find a way to spin a story around the concept,” he says. You can find out more about the show here.

Allegheny Professor of English Benjamin Slote recalls Smith sitting in class a decade ago “with a little smile on his face—teachers can tell pretty quickly who is lit from within by their interests and delights in the material. Karl was so lit. His love of stories and storytelling quickly surfaced, as did the related power of imagining the lives of others.”

Slote was Smith’s advisor when Smith worked summers in the New Mexico camp as a storyteller. “He sent me long and wonderfully written reflections about the experience,” Slote recalls. “That’s when his love and performative energies for storytelling were confirmed for me. And that lit-from-within interest in the world and all the world’s quirks has never left him, and I suspect never will. Kids know it when they see it. Which is why storytelling and good teaching are very close cousins.”

It’s not surprising that Smith has focused his storytelling on science, says Allegheny Professor of Physics Doros Petasis.

“Karl’s physics/English double major gave him a breadth of knowledge and experience that he now uses to communicate science to children and inspire them to become future scientists. As a double major, he only did a one-semester senior project in my lab but accomplished more than most students do in a whole year,” Petasis says. “As part of his project, he designed, constructed and tested water-cooled Helmholtz modulation coils for a unique electron spin resonance spectrometer based in a research collaborator’s lab at Carnegie Mellon University. These Helmholtz coils allow us to increase the strength of weak signals we get from metalloprotein samples and are still in use today, many years after Karl constructed them.”

So Smith is on a mission to become the next nationally famous “science guy.”

“The best part about storytelling is when everything sings,” says Smith. “The crowd is with you, you’ve won them over. They can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next. If you do your job right, you can give them a sense that stories are capable of doing more and being more than they would ever have imagined. Anyone can make a crowd laugh, or make them feel fear or anger. But with the right story told the right way, you can make them feel wonder, and that is a special thing.”

Smith says he has had his embarrassing moments on stage, such as dropping and breaking his WiFi-enabled and sensor-studded juggling balls on occasion.

His best moment so far involved a new story he had never told before an audience and it included the audience chanting “Dinosaur, Dinosaur” over and over, says Smith. “I started the story, and the crowd was so into it that they almost threw me off. They chanted so loud they filled the whole gymnasium with sound and it was perfect. Then at the end when the dinosaur eats all the children in the story the audience all shrieked and screamed, and I knew at that moment that I had made the right decision to leave a lucrative and successful career at Amazon to go and tell stories to children.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Sight-reading a Cosmic Symphony in Gravitational Waves by Dr. Alex Urban

The era of multi-messenger astronomy is upon us. In the last few years, the LIGO observatories in Hanford, WA, and Livingston, LA have made it possible to witness cacophonous mergers of black holes and neutron stars, then call out to other telescopes around the world and in deep space, all in nearly real-time. But how can we tell so quickly what is happening out in the cosmos, just by staring at some convoluted data? The answer, surprisingly, can be understood through audio engineering — and the power of music. In this seminar we will explore connections between merging black holes and the physics of artful sound, examining what the pitch, timbre, intensity, and tempo of musical instruments can teach us about how to interpret this brand-new field of gravitational wave astronomy.

Join us for this presentation by Dr. Alex Urban on Wednesday, 6 November 2019 @ 12:30 pm in Carr 122

Pizza and drinks @12:15 pm  courtesy of the William Beazell Memorial Fund

Allegheny College to Host One-Day Women in Physics Conference

With the goal of boosting women’s prominence in the field of physics, Allegheny College will host a free Women in Physics conference on Saturday, November 9, in Carr Hall. The event starts with registration at 8:30 a.m. and concludes at 7 p.m. The day will include poster presentations, a career panel discussion, and a seminar on negotiating professional positions and sharpening communication skills.

“Seventy-three percent of all physicists are men,” says Adele Poynor, assistant professor of physics at Allegheny. “This is a chance to get women together, build a community, and inspire and support one another.”

Allegheny students share their physics summer research symposium projects in 2018. (Photo by Ed Mailliard)

The conference organizers — who include Poynor and senior Allegheny students Grace Rohaley, Olivia Krieger, Anna Campbell Sowden, Juliana Sebolt and Sarah Seitanakis — hope to attract dozens of women from the Ohio-New York-Pennsylvania region, ranging from high school students, current undergraduate physics majors, and women who already work in the industry.

“Those in attendance will also have the opportunity to network with other fellow physicists as well as many leaders in academia and industry in an environment where all can share their experiences, advice and ideas,” Poynor says. “There are lots of jobs in physics; not everyone becomes a college professor.”

The keynote address will be delivered by Carolyn Kuranz, associate research professor at the Center for Laser Experimental Astrophysical Research in Michigan. Also speaking will be Kristi Caldwell, a physics teacher in the Palmyra-Macedon School District in New York; Caitlyn Neidig, a 2012 Allegheny graduate who is an engineer at PPG Industries; Barbara Dunlap, a 2009 Allegheny graduate who is a senior research associate at the Ohio State University Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry, and Brianne Hitchner, a 2014 Allegheny graduate and a signal processing engineer at Lockheed Martin.

The two-hour seminar on mastering negotiation and communication skills starts at 1 p.m. Participants will learn how to negotiate a graduate, postdoctoral or professional position in academia, industry or a national laboratory; interact positively on teams or with a mentor; think tactically; enhance personal presence; develop alliances, and achieve professional goals. It is possible to register for, and attend, just this seminar, Poynor says.

This will mark the second Women in Physics conference at Allegheny. “We did it in 2017, and the students created the entire program. We had about 30 attendees from seven schools and some high school students. The goal is for the conference to travel around the region. We’re hoping more schools will take it up,” Poynor says.

The conference is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the American Physical Society, and the Barbara Lotze Endowed Lectureship Fund. Those interested can register online for the conference here. Registrations are due Thursday, Oct. 31.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Physics Program at Allegheny College Is the 2019 Best for the Money in Pennsylvania

Meadville, Pennsylvania – The accredited degree program in Physics at Allegheny College has been ranked as a “Best Value for the Money” in the annual nationwide ranking of U.S. colleges and universities by College Factual.

National Rankings Review

The Physics program at Allegheny is ranked #24 out of 261 programs at colleges and universities in the United States reviewed as “Best for the Money.” This places Allegheny’s Physics program in the Top 10% of all such programs in the country reviewed by College Factual for value.

See the full ranking of Best Physics Schools for the Money.

State Rankings Review

In addition, Allegheny’s Physics program ranked #1 out of 18 colleges in Pennsylvania for value. This makes Allegheny the best value school in the state for Physics majors.

Allegheny has achieved this ranking 2 years in a row.

See the full ranking of Best for the Money Physics programs in Pennsylvania.

Superior Outcomes at Allegheny for Students Earning Physics Degrees

Based upon PayScale survey data*, students graduating from Allegheny with accredited degrees in Physics realize early-career earnings of $56,016 and mid-career earnings of $89,985.

Learn more about Physics as a major.

About This Ranking

College Factual’s Best Physics Schools for the Money Ranking takes into account the average yearly cost of the school, the average time students take to graduate, and the quality the school provides to students. This means schools who rank highly are offering a good value for the money for Physics graduates.

About Allegheny College

Allegheny College is located in Meadville, Pennsylvania in what is generally considered a small town setting, serving approximately 1,900 graduates.

College Factual has estimated the average yearly cost to attend Allegheny to be $34,241. The average student graduates in about 4.1 years, bringing the average total cost of attending Allegheny to $140,388.

Learn more about value at Allegheny.

About College Factual

College Factual, located in Troy, New York, is the leading source of data analytics and insights on college outcomes. It provides in-depth coverage for over 2,500 colleges and universities and over 350 college majors. These insights are available to students from over 200 countries interested in pursuing accredited college degree programs in the United States.

Learn more about the methodologies employed by College Factual.

*Salary data is estimated by College Factual using 2013 data provided by PayScale.

Interactive planetarium to feature a full-dome projection system

Allegheny received a grant of $150,000 from the George I. Alden Trust to create a Center for Innovation and to purchase a high-definition, full-dome projector for the planetarium, which will allow some of the projects developed in the center to be tested and displayed in the planetarium. Recognizing the importance our students and their families understandably place on post-graduation outcomes, the college has committed to offering more opportunities for students to put their classroom learning into action. The Center for Innovation and interactive planetarium will offer our students the ability to engage critically and creatively with real-world situations and problems, working across the curriculum and co-curriculum in intentional ways.

Sebolt, Rohaley, Krieger attend physics conference for women

The few the proud: Juliana Sebolt, ’20, Grace Rohaley, ’20, and Olivia Krieger, ’19.

Held at 12 different locations around the United States and Canada each year, the American Physical Society Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics aims to spread awareness about the lack of women working the physics field, as well as connecting women who are studying the profession.

Sebolt, Rohaley and Krieger had the opportunity to attend the New Jersey conference this year on Jan. 21. The head of the department at Allegheny is Dr. James Lombardi. […] Read more at The Campus


Karczewski Presents at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Kylee Karczewski (Physics, 2018) spent ten weeks last summer doing research in the Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology program that is jointly administered by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. She presented the results of her research at the Summer Undergraduate Research Program symposium on July 28 held on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The title of her presentation was: “Biophysical Characterization of Mutants of HIV-1 RT Precursor”.Karczewski is incorporating elements of her summer research into her senior project.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Eclipse Draws Gators’ Gaze Skyward

The sky grew darker, the temperature cooled, and Allegheny College students looked skyward.

“It’s amazing to see,” said Taylor Cook, 18, a first-year student from Mt. Orab, Ohio, who is planning to major in art and technology.

Meadville, Pennsylvania — like the rest of the state — wasn’t in the path of totality for Monday’s total solar eclipse, the first total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since 1979.

But that didn’t matter to the roughly 100 students, faculty and staff who gathered on the lawn outside Allegheny’s Newton Observatory. Looking through special eclipse glasses, pinhole cameras and telescopes, they were treated to a partial eclipse that blocked out about 77 percent of the sun.

The group included Allegheny President James H. Mullen, Jr., Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole and more than 40 students involved in the Access Allegheny Scholars Program, a program designed to improve the first-year college experience of traditionally underrepresented or underserved students, including, but not limited to, first-generation college students and students who come to Allegheny from a great distance.

“It’s a great initial experience for them, being a part of a national experience while here at Allegheny,” said Rachel O’Brien, associate professor of geology and dance studies.

Allegheny students Nicholas Navarro, left, and Sita Kadash view the Aug. 21, 2017 solar eclipse through a Sunspotter II.

Outside on the lawn, students passed around glasses and gathered around a Sunspotter, a special telescope that projects an image of the eclipse onto white paper for safe viewing. Inside the observatory, Associate Professor of Physics Jamie Lombardi gave visitors a quick tutorial on the workings of its 9.5-inch refracting telescope. The telescope is more than 100 years old and is outfitted with a mirror on the end that blocks almost all of the sun’s light.

“That’s crucially important,” Lombardi said. “If it didn’t have that, you could literally blind yourself.”

The eclipse is the kind of special event that can help ignite a person’s interest in science, Lombardi said.

“People have been interested in this kind of thing for hundreds, thousands of years,” he said. “Everyone, regardless of age, has a connection to the universe and a curiosity about the universe.”

Sean O’Gary, a 19-year-old first-year student who plans to major in physics, is from Chattanooga, Tennessee, inside the path of totality. He was disappointed not to see the full blackout, but still impressed by the partial eclipse and the chance to view it through the Newton Observatory telescope.

The eclipse puts our presence in the universe in perspective, O’Gary said.

“We’re just tiny people and we’re privileged to be able to think about what’s going on and understand it,” he said.

Miss the eclipse? Not to worry. Northwestern Pennsylvania will be in the path of totality for the next total solar eclipse in the United States, in April 2024.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research