Meet the Prof - Joanne O'Meara

Posted on Sunday, February 2nd, 2020



[White background with animated University of Guelph logo, with Improve Life.]

[Cut to Joanne O’Meara outside on campus in the winter.]

Joanne: Physics and a physics education can take you to some really interesting places. So in my research I have done studies on dairy cows in the barn across the street. I’ve also done studies on US War Veterans who were injured during the Gulf War and I collaborated with colleagues here in the department doing elemental analysis on the surface of Mars. So you go from, from one extreme scenario to another and the same is true for education. I’ve taught at the third and fourth-year level our physics majors, but I’ve also, last weekend was hanging out with my daughter doing some physics education at the Harry Potter Day.

[Cut to a classroom with Joanne dressed as a wizard at the front of the class.]

Joanne: For a group of elementary school Harry Potter fanatics.

[Cut back to Joanne outside on campus in the winter.]

Joanne: [Whispers] What’s the first question? 

[Unseen interviewer whispers.]

Joanne: Oh great. I got it! I’m ready for that one. [Laughs.]

[Cut to some video of clips of Joanne on campus and in the classroom.]

[Cut back to Joanne outside on campus in the winter.]

Joanne: My name is Joanne O’Meara. I’m a professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph. So, when I started at Mac in first year, I thought I was going into biology. I thought maybe medicine or maybe I wanted to be a vet? And this first year biology and I were not really a good fit. So, I did really well in Physics and Math and I really enjoyed those classes. So, I thought, well, we’ll give this a go and, and here we are, however many years later. 

[Text appears on lower left of screen: Why Physics?]

Joanne: So, the thing I really liked about the first year physics and math classes were, was that they gave me an opportunity to use logic and quantitative problem-solving to try and understand everyday experiences and so a lot of the outreach activities that I designed for elementary school kids or high school kids really tend to focus on that.

[Cut to video of Joanne and a student doing a demonstration for a group of kids.]

Joanne: Taking simple phenomena and trying to understand them with just some basic fundamental physical principles. 

[Cut back to Joanne outside on campus in the winter.]

Joanne: So, I did my undergrad at McMaster in Hamilton just down the road and then I stayed there to do my PhD as well, so I was there for eight years and then after my PhD I went to Boston and I did a post-doc at MIT for a couple of years. So, after my PhD I actually went to Bermuda for a semester and I taught at Bermuda College for a semester which was an amazing experience. And then I went to Boston and did a postdoc at MIT for two years. After that I got a faculty position at McMaster back again in Hamilton and I worked there for a year until a position opened up here. I applied and got here which was fantastic because my husband's on faculty here. 

[Quick cut to Joanne walking down the stairs inside and cut back to her talking outside.]

Joanne: So, I was no longer having to drive back and forth between Hamilton and Guelph. So, I started here in 2002. I was the associate chair undergraduate for ten years in the department and before that I was involved in the curriculum committee as

One that I'm really passionate about is the science communication course that we do in third year for all of our physics majors. 

[Quick cut to Joanne in the classroom teaching and back to her outside talking.]

Joanne: Helps them develop their communication skills specifically for non-technical audiences. We've also done a lot of work in re-vamping our first-year courses. I was involved in an integrated course that combines physics and calculus as one course for our first-year physical science students. 

[Quick cut to Joanne in the classroom teaching and back to her outside talking.]

Joanne: I have been involved in a number of the courses for biological science students as well, and we just this past summer overhauled the two courses that we teach to the engineering students at the University of Guelph.

Guelph has been such a great place to work because people are so passionate about the curriculum, about how we teach, not just what we teach. The skills that we're helping our students develop. So, it's been fabulous to work with people who are enthusiastic about these things as well. 

[Factoid appears on screen in lower left: In 2019, Dr. O’Meara was awarded the 3M national teaching fellowship.]

Joanne: I started teaching as a grad student at McMaster, actually I started teaching as an undergrad at McMaster we were able to work as undergrad TA's in the department there so I worked as an undergrad TA and then as a TA as a grad student and while I was a grad student I also was part of a group that started the first Let's Talk Science branch at McMaster so, I did a lot of outreach as a grad student and I just loved working with kids, working with other grad students who were passionate about sharing their enthusiasm for science. I currently have
two students who are working on their fourth-year research project with me. One is Mel. 

[Quick cut to Joanne and Mel walking outside and back to Joanne outside talking.]

Joanne: And she's working on helping students who come from first-year biological sciences who want to switch into physics how to best prepare them for their path, and then I have another student Cody who's working on ways in which we can help to encourage young girls to consider physical sciences and physics in particular. But a lot of those projects stem out of students finding a passion for science communication through the course that we develop for them here. 

[Text appears on lower left of screen: Why Physics at Guelph?]

Joanne: What I like about physics at Guelph is that we really do have a very strong passion for teaching and education and we really strive to be the best we possibly can in the classroom.

[Quick cut to Joanne in the classroom teaching and back to her outside talking.]

Joanne: It's not a secondary pursuit for us, it's not research first and teaching second, we really are quite passionate about our undergraduates and our graduates and we want to do the best we possibly can, to prepare them for their futures. A few years ago now, I did a number of segments with Daily Planet with Jay Ingram and he came to the University of Guelph a few times and we videoed some great demos. 

[Cut to a clip of Joanne sitting on a small cart with a fire extinguisher, the fire extinguisher is released and the cart is propelled forward.]

Joanne: So, one of the ones I remember fondly was in our third-floor physics lab, Jay and I had a race with fire extinguishers to demonstrate Newton's third law.  It's a loud one, it involves a lot of motion and energy and it was great to have a race on the third floor! 

[Cut back to Joanne outside talking.]

Joanne: I was wearing rollerblades and Jay was on our little fire extinguisher cart and students were wondering what the heck was going on down the hallway.

[Fade to white. Animated University of Guelph logo with Improve Life appears.]


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