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Observatory Open House

A close-up view of the moon and Jupiter will be featured at an open house at 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Grant O. Gale Observatory on the north edge of the campus. 

Robert Cadmus, Breid-McFarland professor of science, professor of physics and director of the observatory, will lead the free, public observation. If the weather is cloudy, the program will consist of computer imaging demonstrations and recorded views through the telescope.

The Grant O. Gale Observatory is north of 10th Avenue and adjacent to Les Duke Track. 

To receive notification of future observatory open houses, contact Robert Cadmus, Grinnell College Department of Physics, at 641-269-3016 (office), 641-269-3014 (observatory) or by email.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Individuals with mobility disabilities may park near the south end of the accessible path connecting the observatory to the drive on the north side of the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center. The observatory provides an Induction Hearing Loop System for persons with T-Coils in their hearing aids. In addition, the observatory has an audio and visual system that communicates between the first-floor classroom and the telescope for individuals who cannot climb the stairs to the telescope dome. Please contact Conference Operations and Events for other accommodations.

Coding for a Cause

As all Grinnellians know, it’s important to use what you learn to make a difference in your community. In Grinnell’s computer science department, the students in the Team Software Development for Community Organizations class are using what they learn in class to benefit local nonprofits.

“We think our students should understand the ways in which their computing skills can make a positive difference in the world,” says Samuel A. Rebelsky, professor of computer science. “At the same time, it’s important for students to learn how to work with clients who know what they want done, but not how it can be done.”

Helping the Local Food Pantry

Students choose a project at the beginning of the semester, such as creating a website that shows the current needs of the Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) food pantry so people know what to donate. Another project the students have worked on is making an online resource portal to help MICA’s clients quickly find the support they need for food, housing, and jobs.

Zoe Wolter ’16, who worked on the MICA resource portal project, says that the class was a great way to get a feel for what she can do with the skills she’s developed at Grinnell. “Getting to actually apply what we’ve learned in class to a real project really expanded my knowledge of what opportunities are out there,” she says. “It really opened my mind to possibilities that I hadn’t thought of before.”

Developing Marketable Skills

Albert Owusu-Asare ’16, in his work on MICA’s resource portal, developed vital skills for communicating with clients who aren’t fluent in computer science language. “I found that it’s best to have them draw pictures and diagrams of what they want so that we can see what we need to do and there’s no confusion,” says Owusu-Asare. “That’s something I couldn’t have learned just sitting in class.”

Having worked on a large project with actual clients has also been useful for students seeking jobs in the tech industry. John Brady ’16, who developed the food bank site for MICA, found that his experience with that project came in handy for interviews. “Having a project that you can talk about that shows some actual real world experience working for clients was fantastic, because projects just for school just don’t have the same weight,” Brady says. He recently accepted a job offer from Amazon.

Receiving Support from Alumni Mentors

Cassie Schmitz talking with students in the courseIn addition to in-class learning, students also get support from alumni mentors who are now working in fields where they do the same kind of work the students are doing. Mentors come to campus once a semester to meet with students and Skype with them every few weeks to support them and answer questions.

“It’s just nice to have someone who went through the computer science department and is now working in the field,” says Owusu-Asare. “You see that they’re doing all these cool things, and it makes me excited for what I’ll do in the future.” Owusu-Asare plans to work as a software developer for Goldman-Sachs after graduating.

The class also supports the College’s commitment to staying connected to the greater Grinnell community. “In a lot of other college towns there’s a big divide between the town and the college, but Grinnell is really committed to bridging that gap,” says Cassie Schmitz ’05, who has been a mentor for the class for the past two years. “Students are encouraged to really engage meaningfully with the community, and this class is an important part of that engagement.”

Albert Owusu-Asare ’16 is a computer science and physics double major from Kumasi, Ghana.

John Brady ’16 is from Rosco, Ill., and is a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Zoe Wolter ’16 is a computer science and theatre double major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Two One-Year Physics Positions (Start Fall 2016)

The Department of Physics invites applications for two one-year appointments beginning fall 2016.

Assistant professor (Ph.D.) preferred; instructor (ABD) or associate professor possible.

The physics department has six faculty members with active research programs.  The department graduates on average 15 physics majors each year, nearly one-half of whom are women or under-represented minorities.  The successful candidate is expected to teach at all levels of a rigorous undergraduate physics curriculum. 

Job Listing (starts fall 2016) 

Memorial Service for Professor Sujeev Wickramasekara

Sujeev WickramasekaraA memorial service for Sujeev Wickramasekara, professor of physics, will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, in Herrick Chapel. A reception will follow in Grinnell House.

Wickramasekara died unexpectedly of apparent cardiac arrest on Dec. 28, 2015. A visitation and funeral service were held in Iowa City earlier this month. His memorial service on campus will be an opportunity for members of the Grinnell community to share memories and celebrate his life.

After joining the Grinnell College faculty in 2005, Wickramasekara quickly gained a reputation as a brilliant scholar and a dynamic, engaging teacher. The author of many publications in some of his field's most prominent journals, he also attained an international reputation. He challenged majors with advanced seminars in quantum theory in addition to teaching sections of general physics and a tutorial on the growth and convergence of scientific knowledge. He was a supportive and thoughtful colleague and mentor to his peers and a generation of Grinnell students.

Survivors include his wife, Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy, and step-sons, Jonah Bullock and Cole Bullock. Memorial contributions can be made in Wickramasekara's name to support financial aid for Grinnell College physics students from groups that are currently underrepresented in the field. Contributions should be sent to the Grinnell College Development and Alumni Relations office, 733 Broad St., Grinnell, IA 50112.

Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society

Are you interested in learning more about a healthy, active lifestyle and about rehabilitation?

Two free public talks on the research and practice of movement science, with a specific focus on physical therapy, are part of the Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society.

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw will present "Physical Therapy: Bringing the Science of Healing and the Art of Caring Together.”

Dr. Kinsella-Shaw is associate professor in the kinesiology department and director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Connecticut. 

Justin Munato

Justin Munafo will present "Research Experiences in Human Movement Science: Older Adults on Cruises" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3 in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Justin Munafo is a doctoral student in the kinesiology department at University of Minnesota.

The presentations are appropriate both for those interested in the group and pre-physical therapy as well as anyone in the general public interested in how their body moves and how physical therapy helps.

Damian Kelty-Stephen, assistant professor of psychology and adviser of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society will provide information about the group to those who are interested.

The event is being sponsored by All-Campus Events, Wellness, Students on Health-Oriented Tracks, and Pioneer Diversity Council, among others. 

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Finance Is Cool

While growing up in Islamabad, boys were encouraged to become engineers and girls to be physicians, recalls Ahsan Rahim ’11. “Everything else was just a waste of time, according to my family.” That’s why he intended to major in physics and math at Grinnell and study engineering through a joint program at Dartmouth College before going to graduate school in engineering.

But as an excuse to live in New York City, he couldn’t resist doing a summer internship in alternative investments for TIAA-CREF through the Grinnellink internship program. The experience surprised him. “I realized I liked the unpredictability of the financial markets.” Even so, he dutifully followed through with his plan to study engineering.

Trying out engineering

While spending his junior year at Dartmouth “in the cold hills of New Hampshire,” he thought often about how much he preferred the chaos of the trading floor to the order of the instructional machine shop at the Thayer School of Engineering. The following summer in New York, he interned in market risk for securitized products with Deutsche Bank. For him, the experience confirmed that “finance is cool.” He decided to return to Grinnell with a new major: economics.

Until recently, Rahim worked as a portfolio analyst at AllianceBernstein in New York. In September 2015, he started his M.B.A. studies at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Storytelling with numbers

“Finance isn’t just about numbers and getting the right answers on math problems,” Rahim says about his work. “Finance is as much about the stories as the numbers, and there are often no right answers.”    

Take the Japanese auto market, for example. Maybe you see it has a bad day. “People think, ‘Oh, a big part of the auto market is Japanese cars, so demand for cars must be falling, so any supplying car maker will suffer, even a small U.S. auto-parts maker that only supplies U.S. car makers.’ But if you understand the story — that the yen had one poor day, but it was just a one-time event — then you may decide to buy when others are selling.” Emotions and feelings create a story and influence reality; that’s what keeps him hooked.

He credits the interdisciplinary approach at Grinnell with helping him value the interrelation of information, stories, and knowledge. While math skills are a part of his decision-making, principles from sociology and psychology help him factor in the ways fear, greed, and groupthink can dominate fundamentals and logic.

Rahim leads a multidimensional life outside of work and school — a pattern established at Grinnell. “In Islamabad, nobody cared about cocurricular activities; their future was based on their exam results.” But he quickly realized there was more than academics at Grinnell. Besides working on campus 15 hours a week — washing dishes in the dining hall, grading students’ work in calculus, and working in the art gallery — Rahim also volunteered at Grinnell Community Daycare, served as vice president of Mortar Board, was president and founder of the Muslim Student Association, played club and intramural soccer, and served on various committees.

Does he second-guess his decision not to be an engineer? Not at all. If not for his experience at Dartmouth, he wouldn’t have known for sure that he didn’t want to be an engineer.

“I had to try it out first. That’s the investor in me that always wants to be diversified.”

Intrigued by Rahims mention of the engineering programs at Grinnell? You can take advantage of our formal 3-2 agreements with some of the top engineering schools in America, or, like Rahim, you can request to make arrangements with another institution.

Observing the Stars and Planets

If you’re interested in astronomy, “Grinnell is one of the best places you can go,” says Bob Cadmus, professor of physics. Grinnell — without offering a major in astronomy — has graduated about one student per year who goes on to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy.

Cadmus attributes that strong record to students’ focus on physics and the liberal arts as well as their independent work in astronomy.

Some of that work occurs in the Grant O. Gale Observatory, which sits on the north edge of campus, within easy walking distance of residence halls. Cadmus says the proximity to campus was intentional, to make it more accessible to students. Another plus — since the town of Grinnell is small, there’s little light pollution.

The Search for Exoplanets

Jack Muskopf ’16 and Andrew Baldrige ’17, both physics majors, are working in the observatory this summer on Mentored Advanced Projects. Their faculty mentor, Eliza Kempton, assistant professor of physics, studies exoplanets. More than 1,000 exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — have been discovered since 1995.

“We can look at transiting exoplanets fairly easily with our telescope,” Kempton says. The observatory has a 24-inch Cassegrain telescope. “We do real research with this thing.”

Muskopf and Baldrige have been testing a new camera, which will be installed on the telescope soon. Then they’ll be pulling all-nighters in the observatory, processing digital images of exoplanets that are passing in front of their own stars, up to 100 million light-years away.

Muskopf says he’s excited to work in the observatory and “get really high quality photos of stars and have some interesting, useful data.”

Baldrige says, “Every once in a while I sit back and think that I am looking at numbers on a screen right now, but these numbers represent that 100 million light-years away, I know that there’s a star that has a planet orbiting around it.”

Kempton hopes to start training students to use the telescope and help with the data processing. She says it’s an ideal place to get students involved, and they don’t need to be physics majors.

Attracting the Masses

All students are welcome to the observatory during open house events held throughout the year. Baldrige visited it during New Student Orientation his first year. “I looked at a galaxy and it was really clear in the telescope. It was cool because it was something you could never see with a hobbyist’s telescope,” he says.

Cadmus offers open house events to everyone from pre-school children to adults in the community, from current students to alumni. Every summer he offers a workshop for middle-school children and especially tries to interest girls in astronomy.

Jack Muskopf ’16 is from Millstadt, Ill.; Andrew Baldrige ’17 is from Ames, Iowa.

Grant O. Gale Observatory Open House

The moon and Saturn will be the featured celestial objects at an open house at the College's Grant O. Gale Observatory on Tuesday, September 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Robert Cadmus, Breid-McFarland Professor of Science, professor of physics, and director of the observatory, will lead the free, public observation.

If the weather if cloudy, the program will consist of computer imaging demonstrations and recorded views through the telescope.

The Grant O. Gale observatory is located on the north perimeter of the Grinnell College campus, north of 10th Ave. and adjacent to Les Duke Track.

To receive notification of future observatory open houses, contact Robert Cadmus.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

Observatory Opens Doors to Young Students

Summer Observatory ProgramGrinnell College’s Summer Astronomy Program for students entering sixth, seventh, or eighth grade this fall offers the opportunity to explore planets, stars, and galaxies.

The program, set for 8 p.m. July 21, 22, and 23, features presentations, activities, and discussions. Weather permitting, each two-hour session will include observing astronomical objects with the telescope at the College's Grant O. Gale Observatory.

The observatory is north of Tenth Avenue and west of the railroad tracks; north of the baseball diamond and track.

Topics to be covered are:

July 21: Planets
What are planets like?
What makes a planet suitable for life?
Is there life elsewhere in our solar system, or in other solar systems?
July 22: Stars
What makes stars shine?
Where do stars come from and why do some of them end their lives as black holes?
What kinds of stars might have planets that could support life?
July 23: Galaxies and the Universe
What is the universe like?
How much do we know about where it came from and what will happen to it in the future?

The program is free and open to students entering sixth, seventh, and eighth grade this fall. Students who will start ninth grade this fall also may attend, if space permits. To register, call 269-3172 by Friday, July 17.

Although participants are encouraged to attend all three sessions, it’s possible to attend one or two. Each student may be accompanied by one adult.

For more information, contact Professor of Physics Bob Cadmus at 269-3016, 269-3014, or 236-8398.

Best Practices for Diversity, Inclusion in Sciences

Grinnell College will host a national conference June 19-20 that seeks innovative ways to train faculty and to develop creative approaches that foster diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

The conference includes four free, public keynote talks in Noyce Science Center, Room 2022:

Friday, June 19
9-10 a.m.

Denise Sekaquaptewa, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan

Social Psychological Research on Factors Shaping the Climate for Diversity in STEM
2-3 p.m.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Thriving Despite Negative Stereotypes: How Own-Group Experts and Peers Act as Social Vaccines to Protect Against Implicit Bias
Saturday, June 20
8:30-9:30 a.m.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College

From Microaggressions to Microaffirmations: Framing Constructive Feedback to Students
2-3 p.m.

Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago

Anxiety, Attitudes and Motivation: Helping Students Perform their Best under Stress

About the Conference

Grinnell College will welcome faculty and staff members involved in teaching and learning at the 15 member institutions of the Liberal Arts College Association for Faculty Inclusion (LACAFI). These schools share similar challenges in addressing diversity concerns yet have similar goals in these areas and similar resources for meeting them.

“The goal of our conference is to empower educators to initiate diversity and inclusion efforts on their campuses," said Mark Levandoski, co-chair of LACAFI and professor of chemistry.

The conference also will include sessions on stereotype threat and implicit bias as well as successes and failures. Small-group discussions will enable different colleges to share best practices. In addition, institutional teams will work to develop their diversity and inclusion action plans.

Accessibility Accommodations

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to conference operations.