by Rachel Williams
Two undergraduate students from the University of West Georgia won “Best Presentation” awards at the Annual Georgia Academy of Science Conference. The conference was held at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia, March 28 and 29, 2014. Twelve students and their respective supporting faculty members represented UWG in the oral and poster presentations.
Left to right: Richard W. Schmude (president of GAS), Amanda Bashburn and Ben Jenkins
Physics major Amanda Mashburn was honored for her presentation in the Science Education section, “Parallax: A Lab for Introductory Astronomy Students.” She presented her example astronomy lab Saturday, supported by her faculty advisers, Ben Jenkins and Dr. Bob Powell. “The lab covers the concept of parallax, and how astronomers calculate the distances to stars,” Amanda explains. “To be a part of this experience was a wonderful opportunity. I am extremely proud of our physics department and its students here at UWG.”
“Amanda's project focused on creating a new lab for our numerous astronomy lab sections,” adds Ben. “Dr. Powell and I have been trying to find a way to help the students understand the concept of making measurements indirectly, yet accurately. This will increase their comprehension of how distances to stars are measured without having a spacecraft to physically visit them. Amanda found a location on campus where her lab students used a surveyor’s compass and a tape measure to get an angle and baseline and then calculate a distance to an object located far away from the students. In our test of the prototype lab, about 75 percent of the students measured the distance to their object with 10 percent or better error.”
Austin Kerlin, also a physics major, wowed the judges in the Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Technology section with “Modeling Incandescent Bulb Spectra.” His project was chosen as a best undergraduate physics paper during the conference. Austin not only worked with two UWG physics professors, Dr. L. Ajith DeSilva and Dr. Javier E. Hasbun, but he also worked with geosciences faculty member Dr. L. Shea Rose.
“I didn't expect to even have a chance to win, because I've never been any good at public speaking,” Austin explains. “Most of the other abstracts were far more technically advanced than my own. After six months of hard work, I'm glad to see it has started to pay off. I'm proud to have earned an award for myself and for UWG at the GAS conference this year. Dr. Hasbun, Dr. DeSilva and Dr. Rose all earned this award as much as I did.”
“Doing research with undergraduate students is the best part for me,” Dr. DeSilva confides. “The basic theories and laws we teach in the classroom are far more useful than just trying to solve homework problems. Our research is a way to understand nature and stay competitive with other universities.”
This type of research doesn’t just help the college or academic communities, however. "Physics students benefit greatly while performing research under the guidance of UWG professors,” Dr. Hasbun asserts. “This extracurricular experience enables students to gain scientific skills that transcend the classroom's learning environment. The research is even more significant when it involves interdisciplinary research, as is the case for Austin Kerlin."