Monday, February 10

An Astronomer’s “Aha” Moments

by Thomas Steiman-Cameron
A couple of years ago, I shared dinner with a high school friend that I had not seen in many years.
At one point during the evening she asked me “what do you do?”
I have no memory of how I responded but have thought a lot about her question ever since. It intrigues me. What is a very simple question could involve a complex response.
Simplicity and complexity describe human existence and the universe in which we live.  
As a scientist, my goal is to understand the complexity of physical phenomena and, in the process, reveal the underlying simplicity of how nature works. 
Those “aha” moments, when things become clear and everything fits, bring a joy that is difficult to describe.

Scientists live for these moments.
The extreme weather we have experienced this year has absolutely delighted me. A lot of physics underlies weather and its connection to the green house gasses and climate change. In this sense, it is complex. 
However, the phenomena we call weather can be broken down into a number of individual physical processes, each of which is simple and familiar to essentially everyone. 
Thus, uncovering the physics reveals an underlying simplicity. Given an understanding of the physical processes at work, we see that everything works exactly as one might expect! 
I find joy from the fact that we are able to decipher how the universe works and understand it in terms accessible to anyone.
There truly is beauty and harmony in how the universe functions. It is no accident that universities combine “arts” and “sciences” into one school; at the most fundamental level, the two merge.
Guest blogger Thomas Steiman-Cameron, also known by his students as Dr. Dash, is Senior Scientist in the Astronomy Department at Indiana University Bloomington. He will be teaching The Green House Effect, Global Warming andGoldilocks Planets at the JCC on Feb. 20 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. 

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