Dianna Cowern & Beach Physics Awarded Funding by Inaugural La Jolla Community Foundation Grants Program

Dianna Cowern receiving the "big check" with Susan McClellan of the LJCF (left) and Lucille Schindler of the UCSD Development Office (right)

Dianna Cowern receiving the “big check” with Susan McClellan of the LJCF (left) and Lucille Schindler of the UCSD Development Office (right). Photo courtesy Carol Hobson

Beach Physics was one of four programs to be awarded funding by the La Jolla Community Foundation, in their inaugural Foundation Grants program.  Beach Physics Creative Director Dianna Cowern (aka “The Physics Girl”) received the $8300 grant – the largest awarded this year – at an awards ceremony at Madison Gallery.  The grant will support two projects in 2015 that aim to enrich science education for La Jolla students and will move Beach Physics from online lessons to live events:

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Gardens of the Galaxy: Art of Science Learning Play Day!

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The Cool Star Lab and volunteers from the Physics Dept. created its second public installation of a Pop-Up Galaxy Garden during the July 24th Art of Science Learning (AoSL) Play Day in Balboa Park. We were granted a prime site for this event, right in the middle of the historic Plaza de Panama in front of the San Diego Museum of Art. The event, organized by AoSL’s Nan Renner and funded by the Museum of Art and Panama 66, aimed to bring together educators and education enthusiasts from around the region to learn about and play with each other’s projects, and make connections.

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Cool Star Lab Introduces Students from Across Latin America to the Joy of Physics

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Members of the Cool Star Lab were part of a contingent of 16 Physics undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, teachers and faculty who facilitated a morning of physics demonstrations, circuit building and LN2 ice cream, as part of the Institute of the Americas Science & Innovation Camp.  40 high-school students from across Latin and South America were selected to participate in this two-week residential camp at the Institute of the Americas, receiving classroom and field instruction from Spanish-speaking teachers, with conducting projects focused on innovation and evaluation of scientific and technological responses to climate change.

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Orbital Artwork Earns Award

We normally think of orbits as the paths of satellites going around the Earth, or planets going around their host star, in both cases caused by the gravitational attraction between the two bodies. But the stars themselves also orbit within and around our collective systems of stars, the Milky Way Galaxy. In this case, the gravitational force is a cumulative attraction distributed among other stars, gas, dust and dark matter in the Galaxy, the last making up about 95% of the mass of our Galaxy. While we don’t have the longevity to observe the roughly quarter-million-year orbits of stars like the Sun, we can predict them using basic laws of physics.

In 2009, Adam was investigating the kinematics and Galactic orbits of several dozen low-temperature subdwarfs (metal-poor stars that likely formed early in our Galaxy’s history), and generated a visualization of these orbits for a press release at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena.  Here’s one of the images from this release:

And here’s a movie generated for the press conference, tracing the path of one of the “diving” stars LST 1610-0040 (note that slow down as the star passes the region of the Sun and the radio broadcast sphere around Earth, inspired by the opening sequence in the movie Contact):

 

A few years later, Adam decided to look a larger sample, over 500 L-type dwarfs discovered by colleague Sarah Schmidt in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Schmidt had measured tangential (proper) and radial motions, and combining these with distance estimates it is possible to predict the orbits of these stars. Adam mapped the million-year motions of these stars as they travelled around the Galaxy to produce the following pictures:

Computed Galactic orbits of 500 L dwarfs as viewed from above the Galactic plane.

Computed Galactic orbits of 500 nearby L dwarfs as viewed from above the Galactic plane. Most are confined to the same annulus that the Sun occupies in its orbit, although there are some far flung stars that happen to be local today.

Computed Galactic orbits of 500 L dwarfs as viewed from along the mid-plane of the Galaxy.

Computed Galactic orbits of 500 L dwarfs as viewed from along the mid-plane of the Galaxy. Again, most are confined to this mid-plane, with a rare set of stars on highly inclined orbits taking them hundreds to thousands of light-years above and below the plane.

 

Computed Galactic orbits of 500 L dwarfs mapped into cylindrical coordinates (radius from the Galactic center and vertically through the Galactic poles).  The Sun resides at the densest concentration of orbit lines.

Computed Galactic orbits of 500 L dwarfs mapped into cylindrical coordinates (radius from the Galactic center and vertically through the Galactic poles). Here we discern distinct patterns of orbits, from “box-type” (constrained to a narrow range of radii and heights) to “comet-type” (almost purely radial) to “halo” (large deflections away from the plane. The Sun resides at the densest concentration of orbit lines.

 

These images earned 2nd prize in the 2011 Art in Science competition at UCSD, and was used as cover artwork for the 6th Annual Artfest 55.

Dianna Cowern wins National Science Communication Award

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Cool Star Lab Outreach Coordinator Dianna Cowern took the top video prize at this year’s Flame Challenge, a national science communication contest run by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science headquartered at SUNY Stony Brook. Dianna was among hundreds of scientists who tackled the question “What is Color?”, using either video or written formats. Her video was judged as the best entry by over 27,000 11-year olds from around the world.  This is the third year of the Challenge; previous contests asked “What is a Flame?” and “What is Time?“.

Both Dianna and the winner of the written category Melanie Golob, received their awards from Alan Alda during an event at World Science Festival.  This event, hosted by Brian Greene, can be viewed here; the awards are announced toward the end.

Several news agencies reported Dianna’s win, including NBC News and io9, and UCSD profiled Dianna in This Week. You can see more of Dianna’s videos at her Physics Girl YouTube channel.

Congratulations Dianna!