James Roche

lames at Comic Conference

James Roche(right) giving away comic books at Comic-Con 2010

james at laserfest

James Roche poses for the camera at a Laserfest event.


James Roche explains how LiDar and the squealing wall work at the Laser Haunted House at the 2010 USA Science and Engineering Festival.
Photo courtesy of Mary Catherine Adam

James Roche is part artist, part skateboarder, part physicist, and full time funny man. Laughter rolls off of his tongue and soon everyone around him has a smile across their face and the look as if they are in on some sort of inside joke. This physicist and APS project coordinator knows how to make any experience fun and exciting. Physics after all, can be funny.

Roche said, “I first got into it (physics) with a really great High School teacher” His teacher, Debra Waldron at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia made physics come alive. James described her as “a hands-on teacher.” “The way we learned projectile motion was by dropping eggs from the balcony on her head as she walked by at a constant speed.” Roche said he always enjoyed physics, but Waldron’s effective methods of teaching started Roche along the path to a career in physics.

After graduating from high school, Roche enrolled at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “I decided to declare a major at the end of my sophomore year in college.” Roche chose to major in Physics and minor in Art, taking 5 years to graduate. “There’s not much overlap in course material,” he said. When asked about the connection between art and physics, Roche said, “I like to make connections between art and everything. There is the state of the art in science and technology. I like to draw connections and use creative problem solving.” Roche focused on sculpture and digital art and animation, areas where physical principles and laws apply to create realistic designs and working sculptures. “I tend to be very mathematical in art projects. I had a calculator by my drawing desk a lot of the time. Basic math helped my understanding of art in a lot of ways,” Roche said.

“Throughout college I was a skateboarder for a living,” said Roche. Roche worked as a skateboarding camp director and demonstrator at various skateboarding events and fairs. When asked if there was a connection between physics and skateboarding, Roche replied, “On the basic level there is a connection, but I didn’t draw a connection.” He said that he cognitively understood the physics of skateboarding, but not while skateboarding. He said “It’s just muscle memory and with something like skateboarding it’s just practice, practice, practice. Working really hard on a problem until you solve it comes up in both disciplines (skateboarding and physics).”

It wasn’t until James began working as a project coordinator for Laserfest, a yearlong celebration for the 50th anniversary of the first working laser, that he was able to merge his skills working in skateboarding outreach and education, being creative and having a background in physics. “When I got the call back that I was hired, I was told that the skateboard instructor experience was a huge plus. My dad, coming from a military background thought that skateboarding was completely worthless in the real world, so every time I saw him for the next six months I made sure to use the words ‘huge plus’ in conversation. As project coordinator I was the public face at a lot of conferences and festivals and ran the content for the Laserfest website. I kept up with outsourced Laserfest teams throughout the world, doing their own really cool laser education and outreach. I also got to keep a close eye on all the cutting edge laser physics for the year which was more exciting and varied than I could’ve ever imagined, but it was all fascinating stuff.”

Now that Laserfest is over, James is shifting his attention working in a more general physics outreach position at APS, where he will be helping out with the Physics Central website and developing outreach applications for the iPod and iPad. “This,” Roche said, “is leading to an entirely new nervous excitement.”


James pretending to be a pilot at the College Park Aviation Museum on an outreach trip to pursue the physics of flight.
Photo courtesy of Mary Catherine Adams