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Spring 2019 Program

Learn about exciting developments at the forefront of modern physics research, this year focusing on cosmology, black holes, nuclear astrophysics and quantum physics.

An event series for Texas High-School Students to go on a journey of discovering how physics can help us understand nature!

Thirteenth Year Running!

Earn a certificate for sustained attendance!

View the program brochure


Physics is a fundamental science to unravel the laws of nature so that we improve our understanding and appreciation of the world around us from the smallest to the largest scales.

You are cordially invited to attend the 13th edition of SMP to get unique first-hand insights into how scientist push the frontiers of knowledge on fundamental laws of physics, the phases of matter, the Universe, and often unexpected applications.

Listen to and discuss with world-renowned scientists working at Texas A&M University who have agreed to share their newest research in an entertaining and understandable way.

Saturday Morning Physics is a National Science Foundation-funded event series designed to indulge Texas high school students in the fascinating subatomic world of modern physics.

No prerequisites necessary! (except for your curiosity...)

Teacher participation encouraged!


Each Saturday's program will consist of seminars, discussion, quizzes, experiments and tours of campus facilities.

The format for each Saturday's program will be as follows:

9:30 Registration and Welcome
10:00 Presentation
11:00 Discussion/Q&A
11:30-12:00 Quiz, Prizes, Hands-on Experiments, and Facility Tours


The registration desk opens at 9:30am, and it is essential for each student to register in person.


Programs and Schedule

2019 Program Listing

Christian January 19th: "Sunshine and the Periodic Table: How Nuclear Fusion Causes Stars to Burn and Creates the Elements Around Us", Professor Greg Christian

The stars in the night sky and the elements in the periodic table are common fixtures in everyday life. But have you ever wondered what makes the stars shine, and where those elements come from? It turns out these two questions are very closely linked - by the series of nuclear reactions that generate energy in stars, and which are responsible for forming the elements heavier than hydrogen. In this talk, I will give an introduction to these nuclear reactions, discussing how they fuel stellar burning and element formation. I will also discuss how scientists identify the most important reactions, and how we study them experimentally using particle accelerators

After the break: Mechanics with demos



Krisciunas January 26th: "Making astronomical measurements with 7 dollar instruments" , Professor Kevin Krisciunas

Before the invention of the telescope how did astronomers make measurements? By using their eyes and applying their knowledge of geometry. We will show how to measure your latitude, determine the circumference of the Earth, the eccentricity of the Moon's orbit, the distance to the Moon, and we will analyze the orbit of Mars - all without a telescope.

After the break: Measurements with a Gnomon.


HardyFebruary 2nd: "How weird is the weak force?" , Professor John Hardy

Gravity is the only force we are aware of in daily life, yet there are three other much-stronger forces in nature, which are essential to our existence. The so-called "weak force" is the weirdest of them all, since it can change one sub-atomic particle into another, and it also differs from its own mirror image. We are now exploring the limits of its weirdness.

After the break: Guided tours of the Cyclotron Institute.

Attention: Minors need either a parent/guardian in attendance or need a permission slip signed by a parent/guardian. The permission slip can be downloadedhere.



WalshFebruary 9th: "Supermassive Black Holes in Nearby Galaxies", Professor Jonelle Walsh

A major achievement in the field of extragalactic astronomy over the past 15 years has been the detection of supermassive black holes, weighing a million solar masses or more, at the centers of nearby galaxies. Although the black hole's gravitational influence is limited to a very small region at the center of the galaxy, the black hole mass has been found to be strongly related to the properties of the larger host galaxy, suggesting that the growth of black holes and galaxies are closely tied together. To date, the empirical relations linking black holes to their host galaxies are composed of about 100 black hole mass measurements, which are most often made by observing the motions of stars or gas. In spite of the impressive number of observations, there still remain major open questions. In this talk, I will discuss how we detect supermassive black holes and how additional measurements will help us gain a deeper understanding of the interplay between black holes and galaxies.


After the break: February 9 is Aggieland Saturday. We encourage all participants to join the College of Science presentations in MPHY 203/204/205 following our lecture and quiz. Dr. Tatiana Erukhimova and her team will present the Physics Show, followed by the Chemistry Road Show around noon.



HoltFebruary 16th: "Physics of Devices from Solar Cells to Smart Phones", Professor Joe Ross

The dramatic recent developments of modern electronics are based on a number of significant discoveries in fundamental physics. This includes the semiconductor microdevices that appear in smart-phones and myriad other devices that affect our daily lives. In this talk I will describe some of the essential properties that make these devices work, including an introduction to some of the quantum mechanics principles underlying their design. I will give a brief overview of a few of the properties of semiconductors that contribute to their successful use in such applications as smart phones, and then I will also discuss the interaction of light with electrons in semiconductors. The operation semiconductor lasers, as well as that of solar cells, relies on such interactions. I will discuss some of the recent developments in devices for solar-power applications. I will conclude with a discussion of thermoelectric devices, which like solar cells are semiconductor devices used for clean energy applications, and I will discuss ongoing research at Texas A&M to improve these devices.


After the break: DEEP: Discover, Explore and Enjoy Physics




ScullyFebruary 23rd: "Quantum Weirdness" , Professor Marlan Scully

Of the quantum world, John Wheeler said: “If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it.” Niels Bohr said: “Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Indeed the crazy wave-particle duality of quantum particles is a case in point. The fact that knowledge of the particle’s quantum state is the key is another strange feature of the quantum. But these strange features can and do help us to accomplish miraculous things, e.g., the quantum computer which will be “billions” of times faster than its classical counterpart.


After the break: Hands-on demonstrations of basic electromagnetism. We also offer a limited number of tours of the Cyclotron Institute for those who missed the previous tours. Minors need a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian. A downloadable permission slip can be foundhere.


AkimovMarch 2nd: "Very Early Universe", Professor  Bhaskar Dutta

This talk will address the current understanding of the very early universe, before it was one second old. In this early universe, there might have been a particle that still continues to exist today and forms the origin of dark matter. Dark matter makes about 25 percent of the present universe and is about 85 percent of matter. I will discuss the particle origin of dark matter which is yet to be established.

After the lecture:We will award certificates to all participants who attended at least 5 events. The award ceremony starts immediately after the lecture. The program will conclude around 11.20 am



Certificates and Prizes

To be awarded a final "diploma" certificate, you will need to complete at least 5 out of 7 events. In addition, there is a common thread through the event sequence, so that regular attendance is beneficial.


Registration is free . On-site registration will be possible until 9:50 AM on the day of each event. There will be open attendance allowed at each session.

On-Line Registration

Location and Directions

Each program will be held at the Physics Department in the Hawking Auditorium of the George P. Mitchell Physics Building on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, TX 77843.

Parking is available in the North Side Garage (adjacent to the venue). Visitor parking at the North Side Garage requires the purchase of a parking ticket at the vending machines close to the exits. Metered or free parking might also be found on city streets close by.


If you have any questions about the Saturday Morning Physics program please contact:

Prof. Ralf Rapp (
Prof. Rainer Fries (
Prof. Jeremy Holt (

Phone: 979-845-1411


Links to other Saturday Morning Physics Programs


Florida State University:
University of Michigan:
Darmstadt University (Germany):



Thanks to the following individuals and institutions for their generous support:

Kendra Lewellyn, Shana Hutchins, Bruce Hyman,
 and Dawson Nodurft. The Cyclotron Institute and the
 Department of Physics at Texas A&M University, CENTAUR, and the National Science Foundation


Cyclotron Logophysics and astronony dept logoCENTAUR Logo