2016 – Speakers/Topics

November 16, 2016 – “Citizen Science Opportunities in Radio Astronomy”


Bogdon Vacaliuc, M.S.

Because of the availability of two key technologies (widespread use of personal computer interfaces and the existence of interconnected computers that provide both computation and storage at modest cost), an unprecedented capability for scientific inquiry has emerged. Together with a resurgence of low cost electronics development and the sharing of information by the maker community, a perfect storm of opportunity exists in which the efforts of an amateur scientist can make a significant contribution to the advance of knowledge and understanding of our physical world.

Focusing primarily on these opportunities with respect to Radio Astronomy, I will give a survey of citizen science efforts that have been undertaken in the past, the technologies that are enabling the efforts for the future and a basis for the development of a scientific “instrument” on a previously unthought-of scale.

Bogdan Vacaliuc holds a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. His 22-year career spans across small and medium-sized companies building electronics, computing systems and software for commercial, industrial and military uses with achievements in automated inspection, electrical fault detection, radar environment simulation and high speed data aquisition. He currently serves the Spallation Neutron Source at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Bogdan lives with his wife and three children in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

October, 2016 – “Impact!  The Unfinished Business of Planetary Accretion”


Dr. Fred Sloop

The combined processes of erosion and tectonics have hidden all but a handful of the scars left by millions of comet and asteroid impacts suffered by Earth since the days of its formation 4.6 billion years ago. This ongoing process of planetary accretion – as it pertains to Earth – will be the focal point of this presentation. Topics covered will include crater formation and geology, impacts as shaping forces in the geological and biological evolution of the earth, and impact sites as hydrocarbon reservoirs and mineralogically – enriched formations.

A survey and tour of a variety of impact sites and events will be undertaken to include Barringer Crater,AZ, Middlesboro, KY, the Chesapeake Bay site, Vredefort, Sudbury,  Chicxulub, and the 2.15 ma Eltanin deep ocean impact.  Several modern era events will be introduced including the Tunguska Event of 1908, the Brazil event of 1930, the 1947 Sikhote-Alin strewn field event, and the Chelyabinsk airburst of February 2013.

The threat and hazards posed to the modern-day Earth by asteroid and cometary impacts will be examined, as will proposed deflection strategies.

This talk is a reprise of a 2005 ORION presentation given in the immediate aftermath of the close encounter with 2004-MN4, a 325 meter diameter Aten asteroid that was later named 99942 Apophis.


Fred Sloop has been a research chemist in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Chemical Sciences Division for the last twenty-seven years. He works on strategies and methodologies to stabilize nuclear waste, the development of new radiation detection materials, and on problems in hydrometallurgy. He was formally educated at several U.S Air Force and U.S. Army technical schools, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, and the University of Tennessee.

September 21, 2016 – “Observing the Pale Blue Dot – The Use of Satellite Imagery in Understanding Global Change”


Dr. Makhan Virdi


Planet earth, with its limited natural resources and an ever-growing population, is the only home for humans. It is our responsibility as humans and parents, as Carl Sagan said, “to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot”, and create a better world for the generations to come. Satellites provide us with an eye in the sky, enabling us to monitor the natural and anthropogenic activities. NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) program consists of several long-term satellites for observing land, biosphere, atmosphere and oceans. Among several other satellites, Terra and Aqua satellites have been actively collecting data for more than 15 years. Data products from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor onboard Aqua and Terra satellites are being used by researchers from a variety of disciplines to study global change. This talk will focus on the role of satellite imagery in understanding global change. A few global biogeochemical studies will be discussed with a focus on the MODIS instrument.

Biographical Information:

“Makhan Virdi joined the Environmental Sciences Division in September 2013. He received a Ph.D. in Water Resources from the University of South Florida (USF) in 2013 and a BS (B.Tech) in Civil Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India. While at USF, he worked for the U.S. Geological Survey from 2007 to 2010 studying surface-groundwater interactions by modeling long- term climatic effects on a karst lake. His graduate research included geospatial analysis, time-series analysis, hydrological modeling, variably-saturated flow modeling, and numerical simulations.”(Information retrieved from http://ccsi.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/virdi_bio.

July 20, 2016 – “Heterotrophic Organisms in the Deep Marine Sediments” or “What to Do When You’re Hungry but You’re 100,000 Years Late for Dinner”, Dr. Drew Steen, UTK Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dr. Drew Steen


Burial of organic carbon in deep marine sediments represents a major long-term sink for CO2: carbon that is sequestered in deep marine sediments is removed from the active carbon cycle, essentially forever. The primary mechanism by which sedimentary organic carbon is converted to CO2 is the activity of microorganisms, specifically, heterotrophs which oxidize organic matter to CO2 in order to gain energy and build biomass. These microorganisms are strange beasts. The food they eat is the remnants of phytoplankton and terrestrial plants that has been aging for hundreds of thousands of years or more in sediments – not what one would call a high quality diet. They are estimated to have divided every ten thousand years, compared to every 20 minutes or so for microorganisms more commonly studied in labs. Perhaps for that reason, the vast majority of them stubbornly refuse to grow in pure culture, and therefore are extremely challenging to study directly. In this talk, I will discuss my research on what subsurface heterotrophs eat and how they eat it – and what the consequences are for the global carbon cycle.

Biographical Information:

Drew_Svalbard_CTD”I graduated with an Sc.B in chemistry from Brown University in 2000. Originally I planned to be a theoretical chemist, but the students and faculty in the geology department in the bottom half of the Geology/Chemistry building always seemed to be having more fun than the chemists, so I decided to work on chemistry of the environment. This led me to a Ph.D. in Marine Science with a focus on chemical oceanography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which I received in 2009. During my Ph.D I came to understand that much of the chemistry I was interested in – the behavior of polysaccharides in the ocean – was modulated by microorganisms, which led me to a postdoc at the Center for Geomicrobiology at Aarhus University in Denmark (2009-2011), and then a stint as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at University of Tennessee (2012-2014). Since the fall of 2014 I have been an Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UT. When I’m not thinking about microbe-organic matter interactions underwater, I enjoy hanging out with my family and trying to keep my mountain bike between me and the trails around Knoxville.” (information received from the speaker via personal communication)

June 15, 2016 – “Messier: The French Connection to the Heavens”, John Mannone, ORION Vice President.  

JCM_May 26 2016

John C. Mannone, ORION V.P.


This presentation reviewed the contributions of Charles Messier (1730-1817), in particular the cataloging of Messier Objects: nebulae, clusters, galaxies. A discussion of the nature of these objects preceded a viewing of the entire catalog enhanced by music.

Biographical Information:

John Mannone achieved a M.S. in Physics specializing in plasma physics (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, 1988); M.S. in Physical & Theoretical Chemistry in photoelectron spectroscopy (Georgetown University, Washington, DC, 1978); and B.S. Chemistry (Loyola College, Baltimore, MD, 1970). His research interests are in astrophysical plasmas and electromagnetic theory.

As a research chemist for Martin Marietta in Baltimore, he worked on life detection systems one the Viking probes as well as on the electro-explosives used on the Voyager probes. He broadened his career paths when he joined Westinghouse Naval Reactors in Idaho. This launched his consulting career in the nuclear industry in which he helped solve industry challenges for thirty years for both commercial nuclear reactors and DOE nuclear projects. Retired since 2010, Mannone remains active in teaching and astronomy outreach; he is often sought out as a speaker. He has also developed a passion for the literary arts and since 2004 he has fused those arts with science. He has several collections of poetry published and has won numerous distinctions.

May 18, 2016 – “Let’s Talk Gravitational Waves”, Dr. Mike Guidry

Michael Guidry

Dr. Mike Guidry


On September 14, 2015 the event detectors form the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) facilities in Washington and Louisiana recorded data that was consistent with the merging of two black holes. Together, the data that were recorded form the event known as GW150914, and there is much excitement in the scientific community about what this event means in relation to the predictions made by Einstein’s theory of general relativity 100 years ago. Professor Guidry writes that,

“The recent announcement by the LIGO collaboration of the first direct detection of gravitational waves and the interpretation of the event (GW150914) as
originating in the merger of two ~30 solar mass black holes has electrified the
physics and astronomy community. If the claim withstands scrutiny, it represents
one of the most important scientific discoveries of the past century. I will
explain, in as simple terms as possible assuming a non-specialist audience, what
gravitational waves are, how the wave was detected, and why GW150914 is of
potentially enormous significance for both physics and astronomy.”

Biographical Information:

Mike Guidry earned his B.S in Chemistry from McNeese State University, and his Doctorate in Chemistry from the University of Tennessee. He currently holds a position with the University of Tennessee as a Professor of Physics and Astronomy; and is an Adjunct staff member with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the Physics and Computer Science/Mathematics Division. He has an employment history that includes the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, the Niels Bohr Institute, the University of Liverpool and the University of Basel.

“Mike Guidry is the author of more than 200 journal publications and invited presentations, 3 published textbooks, and 3 textbooks in advanced preparation that address topics in nuclear physics, computational science, advanced educational technology, astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, general relativity, the mathematics of symmetry in physics, elementary particle physics, relativistic quantum field theory, and condensed matter physics. He has been the lead educational technology developer for a 7 major college textbooks (with multiple editions) in introductory physics, astronomy, biology, genetics, and microbiology, and in projects as diverse as training K-12 teachers to use educational technology effectively and explaining the science behind weapons of mass destruction for emergency first responders. Recently he has developed an online course and conducted workshops in programming modern mobile devices for scientific and educational applications. His primary current research interests lie in development of new algorithms for solving large coupled sets of differential equations in scientific applications, understanding the mechanism for Type Ia supernovae, and developing new many-body techniques for understanding high-temperature superconductors and other strongly-correlated electron systems, and in developing new approaches to quantum Hall physics in graphene. He has won various teaching awards and is responsible for many Web-based and conventional initiatives introducing and explaining science to the public.” — (Michael Guidry, Personal Communication, April 28, 2016)

April 20“On the Origin of the Universe and Life On Earth”, Dr. Bob Compton

Orion - Bob Compton

Dr. Bob Compton


Humans have long desired to understand our origin and place in the grand Cosmos. The last 100 years have provided new concepts and observations that give us more clues regarding the origin of the Universe, and information related to these concepts and observations were addressed during this talk. Additionally, rationale for the current, scientifically accepted value for the age of the Earth was discussed. Dr. Compton also discussed some of his recent research, which has focused on the origin and evolution of the amino acid pool that eventually led to complex life forms.

Biographical Information:

Dr. Compton earned degrees in Physics from Berea College (BA), the University of Florida (MS) and the University of Tennessee (PhD). He was a Senior Corporate Fellow at ORNL from 1965-1995. He has served as a professor in various capacities at the University of Tennessee (he retired in 2015), the University of Aarhus, the University of Paris and the FOM Institute in Amsterdam. He is an Erskine Fellow and has presented a series of lectures in New Zealand on the Manhattan Project.

March 16

February 17 “Switzer Science:  A Story of Hypatia, Mary Somerville, and Lise Meitner”, Jennifer Hartwig, ORION member


Jennifer Hartwig,M.S.


February 11, 2016 marked the celebration of the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Yet women have played important roles in science for over 2000 years, despite the notion by some that women might go insane if they took on any task that was considered to be ‘too intellectual’.

There is a reason for the presentation title of ‘Switzer Science’.  Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to register for and complete the Boston Marathon in the year 1967.  She did so in a culture that believed women were physically incapable of completing such distances, let alone compete in them.  Ironically, as she set out to meet her marathon goal it was the men who were closest to her that supported her the most.  The same seems to be true in science.  Contrary to the popular notion that men in general were the oppressors of women who wanted to pursue their passion for science, there seems to be many for whom that wasn’t the case.

Perhaps we have overlooked the wider role that culture played/plays in placing obstacles in the way of a woman’s desire to explore the world of science.  This presentation included stories of three women who encountered such cultural difficulties:  Hypatia of Alexandria, Mary Somerville, and Lise Meitner.  From preserving and disseminating classical mathematics and scientific literature to identifying nuclear fission, these women shared a hunger for science and a relentless sense of self-identity which was, at some point, fostered greatly by the men with whom they felt the closest to.  What does this say about the importance of what we do as a club?  How can we fulfill the role of supporter or encourager to a young mind (male or female) who lives in an environment where they are told that science is not an option?   Minds of either gender are equally capable of contributing to the advancement and understanding of complex scientific concepts as well as the philosophies that often drive the inquiries about them.  We would do well to be a driving force behind changing the culture for any person – male or female – who desires nothing more than to pursue their ‘inner scientist’.  Let us continue to keep our hearts open to these people and our minds ready to help foster intellectual development for any individual who seeks it.

Biographical Information:

Jennifer Hartwig is an Exercise Physiologist by trade, but an amateur astronomer at heart.  She is a former instructor of Kinesiology at both the University of Tennessee and Carson Newman University, and has found that her studies of physiology, astronomy and physics complement each other in a somewhat unexpected – but much welcomed – fashion.  She works with two local astronomy clubs on a regular basis by promoting and participating in public outreach events; has a strong interest in promoting science and astronomy to children and adults; and recently served as a middle-school Science Olympiad coach in the astronomy event.

January 27 “Comets: What We Know, What We Do Not Know and What We are Learning”, Roy Morrow, ORION Member

Sierra Exif JPEG

Roy Morrow, PhD


Through the centuries humans have observed comets and considered them both as harbingers of fear and as beautiful celestial objects. Today we know comets are left over material from the formation of our solar system prompting examination by land based telescopes and by a variety of space probes. The more we learn about the composition of comets the more we know about the formation of our solar system. Comets are a mass of frozen water, methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide and contain amounts of organic compounds. Planetary scientists believe that some of the water on Earth was delivered by comets and that organic compounds could have provided the seeds of life.

This talk reviewes what we currently know about comets (and the formation of our solar system) and will present current information gained from ESA’s Rosetta space craft and the Philae lander as they are examing comet 67 CG. Several images of recent comets by amateur astronomers were used in the talk. The origin of comets, their orbit characteristics and past and potential future impacts with Earth were presented.

Biographical Information:

Roy Morrow PhD is a retired analytical chemist from Oak Ridge. He is an avid amateur astronomer, built a telescope at age 10, and has participated in astronomy “star parties” throughout the country. Roy is a member of three local astronomy clubs, helps with the outreach programs at Roane State Community College’s observatory and assists with the Grand Canyon Star Party. He has observatories at the Arizona Sky Village in Portal, Arizona and at his Tellico Village home. His special interests include astrophotography of star forming regions in the Milky Way, studying the life cycle of stars, and public outreach.  Who knows . . . A Tellico Skies Astronomy Club may come out of your interest!  Join others who have similar interests and learn more