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MSU physics professors receive grants for light pollution research

Two physics professors at Morehead State have received grants totaling $5,000 for a research project on light pollution.  

Dr. Jennifer Birriel, professor of physics, and Dr. Kevin Adkins, assistant professor of physics, were awarded $2,500 each from the Kentucky Academy of Science (KAS) and the American Association of Physics Teachers for their Eastern Kentucky Light at Night Education Project. The project will educate K-12 teachers and students about the harmful effects of light pollution on ecosystems and human health. Two physics students, juniors Abigail Fagan from Cumming, Georgia, and Ashley Peters from Palm Bay, Florida, are participating in the research through MSU’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.   

“Eastern Kentucky does have moderate levels of light pollution - as documented by satellite maps,” Birriel said. “Since we are in a unique area with a National Forest, maintaining, or even reducing light pollution is desirable.”  

Light pollution creates numerous problems for wildlife, including interruption of foraging, migration and mating patterns. It also has adverse effects on humans by contributing to sleep disorders and blocking the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain in response to darkness regulating sleep.   

Each participating school will receive a kit of materials and a series of video vignettes produced by the MSU team. The videos will provide introductory background material. The kits include activities and demonstrations that the students can get their hands on to experience the concepts right there in their classroom. This first part of the program will involve the students learning about the different types of light pollution and its adverse effects on humans, animals, the environment, and potential solutions. The second half of the program involves students using a light meter, included with the kit, to take readings outside at night, preferably at several sites.   

“By doing this at several locations across MSU’s service region, we can start to develop a picture of how the night sky looks in Eastern Kentucky,” Adkins said. “These data will be submitted to us here at MSU and also to Globe at Night, where nighttime readings are documented over time. Kentucky is currently totally blank east of Lexington.”  

For more information about the project, email Birriel at j.birriel@moreheadstate.edu or Adkins at jkadkins@moreheadstate.edu.  

To learn more about physics programs at MSU, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/phes, email phes@moreheadstate.edu or call 606-783-2381.