WSU hosts BYU professor for physics seminar

(photo by Caitlynn Kindall)
(Photo by Caitlynn Kindall)
Victor Migenes lectures on high-mass stars during Wednesday’s physics seminar in the Lind Lecture Hall.

Wednesdays for a Wildcat typically consist of being thankful it isn’t Monday and wishing it were Friday. For students in the College of Science, though, Wednesdays consist of various seminars throughout the semester.

“We do the seminars mostly every week about 80 percent of the semester,” said physics professor Michelle Arnold. “They’re mostly physics students, but it’s also some people from other departments from the College of Science. We advertise it all over campus and on Facebook.”

While the majority of the presentations are attended by physics majors, engineering student Sean Moore said he also enjoys attending the seminars.

“I sometimes have free time on Wednesdays between classes, and going to the seminars is an interesting way to pass the time,” he said.

This week, the speaker was Victor Migenes of Brigham Young University’s physics and astronomy department. Migenes is an internationally recognized expert in the field of astrophysical masers, or microwave amplification by stimulation emission of radiation.

While this week’s seminar featured an external speaker, the seminars feature a variety of speakers.

“We have internal speakers such as our alumni that come back to speak,” Arnold said. “Some of them are students that have gone and got jobs or have received their Ph.D. Sometimes, like this week, we have an external speaker. In two weeks we’re having one of our own physics majors that will be talking about his research that he’s currently doing.”

While Migenes is famous for his research of masers, he is also famous for a quote of his: “Some of the brightest minds known in science have studied nature and felt or believed in some type of higher power. Most importantly, they felt no contradiction existed between science and their beliefs.”

The seminar on Wednesday was titled “The Formation of High-Mass Stars: Who Cares?” Migenes posed the question “Why do people care? High-mass stars just hang around, take it easy, live long and prosper.”

Migenes explained in his presentation that high-mass stars induce star formation in a galaxy, enrich the ISM with heavier elements, drive the evolution of a galaxy, and are important in the search of Population III stars.

ISM stands for interstellar medium, the material that makes up the space between the stars. It consists of interstellar dust and gases, all the rich molecular soup that helps form stars and galaxies.

A Population III star has little to no metallicity. Population III stars used primordial molecular clouds to form. They are believed to be the first stars formed in the universe.

The formation of high-mass stars is said to be one of the most significant unsolved problems in all of astrophysics. A star is considered a high-mass star if it is greater than 8-10 solar masses. These stars eventually explode as supernovae and produce most of the heavy elements in the universe. Observations of H II regions produced by massive stars help astronomers to determine the star formation rate and abundances in galaxies.

People often do not care about high-mass stars, though, because they have short lifespans. They are also very far away and embedded in dusty and gaseous clouds.

Along with his presentation on high-mass stars, Migenes also emphasized the importance of attending graduate school.

“When I was attending undergraduate school, you knew that, as physics majors, if you did not attend graduate school that there would not be any options for you for a career. Your only chance was to be a high school physics teacher. While there are undergraduate career options for physics majors now, attending a good graduate school still opens up a lot of doors.”