From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"The Scientific Community"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 07 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Most people aren't scientists, at least in the very strict sense of active researchers. But most people are curious about what scientists have discovered. That's great! Too bad scientists themselves have very little incentive to actually reach out and engage with the public.

The problem, as usual, is lack of time and money. Faculty at a university are tasked with 1) getting grants, 2) writing papers, 3) advising & mentoring, and 4) teaching. There's a large gap between 2) and 3) in the priority list, and Grand Canyon between 3) and 4).

When faculty do reach out to the community, it's usually on their own time and with their dime. They're typically not rewarded for it within their university; they do it because it's fun.

And that's where COSI comes in. COSI itself isn't a scientific institution, but it is a part of the scientific community, fulfilling a desperate need to share, communicate, and disseminate science. COSI team members play a vital role: educating and bringing science to the public, so that the public can enjoy and continue to support science itself.

"At Least We Don't Behead Astronomers...Anymore"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 31 July 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Solar eclipses have been happening for a long time. Humans have been around for a long time (not as long as eclipses, but pretty long nonetheless). And when folks see eclipses, they tend to want to record the event. Today we have our smartphones, and I'm sure the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st will generate plenty of social buzz, especially for those lucky enough to see totality.

We have records of eclipses in antiquity, but as you might imagine those records are a little sparse. The earliest possible recording is actually prehistoric - a petroglyph on a monument near Loughcrew, Ireland might depict a total solar eclipse from 3340 BCE.

Our first written record is actually a story - and possibly just that, a story - about how the Chinese emperor Chung K'ang was surprised by an unexpected solar eclipse in 2137 BCE. When he found out that his royal astronomers were out partying, and hence failed to predict the event, he had them beheaded.

The astronomers who served later emperors must've learned that valuable lesson, as after that we have nearly a thousand recordings of eclipses in China spanning fourteen centuries.

"Universality"

on Monday, 24 July 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

One of my favorite things about physics is its universality. A hydrogen atom in the laboratory behaves exactly the same as a hydrogen atom on the back end of the Milky Way galaxy. Gravity is gravity is gravity; the force that keeps your feet planted to the ground is the same force that keeps planets in orbit around the sun, and that's the same force that has shaped the largest structures in the universe.

This key concept allows us to make enormous leaps in understanding. We can understand the state of the first few minutes of the Big Bang because we know how high-density plasmas work, so we can make testable predictions. We can figure out how stars die and blow up without having to visit one, because we can run a computer simulation of the fundamental physics.

Pretty handy, if you ask me.

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