James C. White II, PhD, but I go by "Jay"

provost and professor of physics, the john merck Division of science and technology

Everett Mansion 208


  • PhD and MA, Indiana University Bloomington
  • BS, Birmingham-Southern College

Courses taught

    Previously, all courses within undergraduate physics and astronomy/astrophysics curricula; at SVC, will occasionally teach physics, astronomy, and "Quest for Success" courses

academic Research/interests

Broadly stated, I enjoy explosive celestial phenomena, and my research, with colleagues at institutions around North America, has been directed at detonation and accretion processes in novae and supernovae and outcomes of these explosive events: white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes, and synthesis of specific elements during such explosions. Other interests and experience are broadly defined as science education and policy. My non-research work has been through the Paris-based International Astronomical Union and largely centered on the establishment of or refinement to programs of science and science education in developing countries around the world--overseeing the creation of a science textbook for high schools and universities in Vietnam, enhancing programs in science at a Moroccan university, establishing an astronomical observatory in Honduras, working with the Philippine weather service on a program of education and public outreach in that island nation, and more.

areas of expertise

Astronomy and astrophysics; science and education policy, particularly related to higher education; science communication and science publishing for non-scientists; science fiction (esp. Star Trek Classic); jazz; hailing taxis or bullock carts around the world; losing gracefully to my sons and wife in most games of chance.

Why I teach

Contrary to the image of teacher as a wise yet possibly wizened individual who merely deposits knowledge in others, I teach because it is, for me, about sharing--of ideas and knowledge, of vantage and perspective, of experience and story, of language and approach. I adore infecting others with ideas and drawing students into great conversations about how we humans know what we think we know. Similarly, I relish learning and arguing with others as we try to understand more of how and why Nature behaves the way it does (or, at least, how we think it does). These are elements of why I teach. These are elements of how I learn.

Favorite BookS

Bhagavad Gita; Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful; any book by cultural critic Neil Postman (Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death, etc.); Gaiman’s American Gods; The Bible (KJV); any Lovecraft volume that includes, among others, At the Mountains of Madness and The Call of Cthulhu; Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; Galileo’s Daughter by Sobel; Foucault’s Pendulum by Eco; Halloween Night by Murray and Dorman; Lynch’s The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade; The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Tufte; Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments with Truth; Love is a Dog from Hell by Bukowski; Borges’s Ficciones; DownBeat magazine; Rowling’s Harry Potter heptalogy; and on and on.

Favorite films

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; Wenders’s Wings of Desire (the original German film and most decidedly not the awful American remake with Cage and Ryan); Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Stuart; Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy (after all, don’t we all love Gilbert and Sullivan?); Hannah and Her Sisters by Allen; Russell’s Altered States and The Devils; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by Hughes; Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; Roshomon by Kurosawa; Abrams’s Star Trek; Alfredson’s Let the Right One In; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken by Rafkin; and on and on.

Best part of being at SVC

Southern Vermont College is a fine college steeped in liberal arts tradition and an environment of ideas and intellectual engagement. But it’s a special college because of the care, nurturing, and high expectations the community provides our students. Faculty and staff alike give all of themselves to their students, young people who really are tomorrow’s great souls. The College feels good to me. The College feels right.