Skip to main content

Astro Memories

On the road on the way up to the Mauna Kea summit
Sometimes I try to remember specific events from my recent past, say in grad school, and I can't remember the dates, ordering of events, and other details. It's amazing how 10 years can smear out important details in your memory. However, there's one event that I can clearly remember and even assign a specific date to. On the eve of the start of the Iraq war back on March 19, 2003, I was driving from Hale Pahaku to the summit of Mauna Kea, from 9000 feet to 14,800 feet. Prof. Mike Liu was driving and Mike Fitzgerald and I were passengers of the CFHT-issued Chevy Suburban. BBC radio was on and I was listening to reports of bombs falling on Bagdad, with a sinking feeling in my gut. Both because of the realization there was nothing I could do to stop my country from getting into the war, and because of the ride up the mountain.

What I remember very vividly was Prof. Liu had that Suburban was going very quickly along that Mars-terrain-like road. I remember the date, the people involved, the color of the SUV (blue with tan interior), the clearness of the sky, and the distinct feeling that we were moving up the mountain along that dirt road not unlike this:



That's what I remember. I don't remember the details of the vast majority of the science talks I attended, much of the content of the courses I took, even the conversations at the Triple Rock Brewery after work. But I definitely remember getting the back end of that SUV loose around those mountain roads with no guard rails between us and sharp, volcanic boulders. I also remember the exquisitely clear nights we had once at the summit. Astro memories!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

The subtle yet real racism of the Supreme Court

Judge Roberts, a member of the highest court in the land, which is currently hearing the sad story of mediocre college aspirant Abigail Fischer, recently asked, "What unique ­perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class? I’m just wondering what the benefits of diversity are in that situation?" 
Did you catch the white supremacy in this question? If not, don't feel bad because it's subtly hidden beneath the cloaking field of colorblind racism. (As for Scalia's ign'nt-ass statements, I'm not even...)
Try rephrasing the question: "What unique perspective does a white student bring to a physics classroom?" The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing! Why? Because race isn't biological, and is therefore not deterministic of cognitive abilities. Did you perhaps forget that you knew that when considering Roberts' question? If so, again, it's understandable. Our society and culture condition all of us to forget basic facts …