In this episode, Justin and Maura interview speakers and students who attended the 2022 Society for Physics Students Physics Congress. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell shares the story of her 1967 discovery of radio pulsars and her omission from the Nobel Prize awarded for that discovery. Nobel Laureate, Dr. John Mather explained the importance of learning about the early universe and the potential of the James Webb Space Telescope. Other guests include Dr. Julianne Pollard-Larkin of MD Anderson Cancer Center, a medical physicist who uses physics to study cancer cures; K Renee Horton, former president of the National Society of Black Physicists and airworthiness deputy at NASA; Dr. Sarah Horst, a planetary scientist who models properties of exoplanets and moon and works with educators to make planetary science accessible to students; and former congressman, Rush Holt Jr. who applies skills acquired from his physics training to inform public policy-making. We also hear from students about what they study, their favorite parts of physics, and the joy of being a member of SPS!
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Dr. John Mather, Dr. Julianne Pollard-Larkin, K Renee Horton, Dr. Sarah Horst, Rep Rush Holt Jr.
Speakers: Maura Shapiro and Justin Shapiro
Initial Conditions Bonus Episode 1: Phys Con Date: October 6-8, 2022
JUSTIN: We are coming to you live from the Society of Physics Students Physic Congress, or as it's known more commonly, Phys Con.
MAURA: We're here celebrating SPS's centennial anniversary, in the beautiful, charming town of Washington, D.C.
JUSTIN: Physicists and physics students are traveling from across the country and across the world to be here.
MAURA: And we have the distinct pleasure of meeting some of them. Justin, who are you most looking forward to talking to?
JUSTIN: There are so many, I can't name them all, but I'm excited to talk to John Mather, Sarah Herst, Renee Horton, and Rush Holt, to name just a few. How about you?
MAURA: I personally cannot wait for my interview with Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars. She not only has incredible stories to tell, but also contributes her time and money to making physics a more welcoming and inclusive environment for under-represented groups in physics. She's a real role model for me.
JUSTIN: This Initial Conditions episode will feature interviews with some of the speakers at Phys Con and some of the students who attend.
MAURA: Our guests will span fields from astronomy to medical physics, even to politics.
JUSTIN: It is so great to be here and to feel the energy from these students, so let's dive in.
JUSTIN: (Live) I'm here with Madison, from the University of North Alabama. Who is your favorite physicist and why?
MADISON: I really, in particular, I really admire Dame Burnell, because I really can appreciate how she advocates for being unapologetically yourself and being a trailblazer and being a woman in her field.
JUSTIN: What field of physics do you study and why?
MADISON: I'm actually a history major.
JUSTIN: Oh really?
MADISON: And I volunteer at my university's planetarium, and I'm currently in an entry-level astronomy course for non-majors.
JUSTIN: That's excellent, I'm an historian myself, so it's always good to meet a fellow historian. Where does your passion for physics come from?
MADISON: Probably my first semester. My friend and the president of our group, Harmony, she got me to come to the planetarium with her, and I've been going every week since. I've definitely developed a new passion for astronomy.
JUSTIN: All right, we're here today with Dominic from Central Washington University. Dominic, how are you?
DOMINIC: Good, how are you?
JUSTIN: I'm doing well. Thanks for asking. My first question is, who is your favorite physicist and why?
DOMINIC: I'm gonna have to go with Burnell. Probably because I've been interested in space kind of my whole life, and there was one time when I was younger and I was watching some space documentary or whatever on the history channel or something, and they started talking about this crazy star that spins really, really fast and puts out a lot of radiation. And that was a pulsar. Talked about the person who discovered it, Burnell. And just how she discovered it, and how much she went through after discovering it and just everything that she's done since then is just really an inspiration and it's an amazing story.
JUSTIN: Thank you, that's a really good answer.
MAURA: I'm here today with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who as part of her long and impressive career as an astrophysicist, discovered pulsars. The dense, rotating, flashing stars that are often compared to the lighthouses of the universe. Can you tell me about discovering radio pulsars and what did it feel like when you figured out what you had done?
BURNELL: And how many hours do you have? (both laugh)
MAURA: Not enough. (both laugh)
BURNELL: Geography was quite an important part of it. My accent is Scottish/Irish. And until I went to do the PhD, I had lived in the north and west of the British Isles. Cambridge is in the southeast, which is a very affluent area, regards itself highly, and thinks of the north and west as sort of primitive and heathen. (laughs) So I turn up in this part of the country, and at a university, Cambridge, that considers itself the world leader. And I'm feeling provincial. Everybody in Cambridge seems terribly clever, totally confident, but they're also all men. Or nearly all men. And I'm this female from the north and west with an accent, and definitely don't fit in. And I actually thought they'd made a mistake admitting me. I thought they would discover their mistake and I thought they would throw me out. But we now have a name for this feeling, it's called imposter syndrome. At that time, it wasn't identified. It wasn't named. But I can see I was suffering from imposter syndrome. And being quite convinced they were going to discover their mistake and throw me out, I decided what I'd do would work my very hardest, so that when they threw me out, I'd know I'd done my best. And I just wasn't bright enough. So I was working very, very hard. Very thoroughly. And it was really as a consequence of being so very thorough that I noticed the signal from the first pulsar, because it was very small, very small fraction. It took up about a quarter inch on my chart recordings. And I think there were several miles of chart recordings. So we're talking about a quarter inch in, say, three miles or five miles of chart recording. I mean it was pathetic (laughs) how thorough I was being. Absolutely crazy. And that's how that signal got turned up.
MAURA: And when you saw the signal, were you confused, were you elated? Did you think it was an alien? What were you thinking?
BURNELL: Well, there were several steps first. Having identified this quarter inch of curious signal, I ultimately went to my supervisor, thesis advisor, and said, "Not sure what this is." And he was always a bit sort of grumpy. he said, "Yeah well, of course, it only occupies a quarter inch. We cannot see what the heck is going on here. We need an enlargement. So spread it out." And so I worked on getting this enlargement and the wretched thing had disappeared. And of course that's the grad student's fault. Ultimately, it reappeared and it was this string of pulses. And when I told my thesis advisor, he was, "Well, that's absolutely crazy. It's interference. It's blah blah blah blah blah." But I persisted, and he came out to the observatory one day at the right time, watched me set up, made sure I was wearing things up properly, and saw it for himself. And then he believed. And then the question is, what on Earth is giving this kind of signal? Because with a very, very big radio telescope, you pick up a lot of interference, anything that sparks, for instance, gives a radio signal. The one plus was that this thing was keeping its place amongst the stars. And the stars go around in 23 hours 56 minutes, not 24 hours. This thing was getting 4 minutes earlier every day like the stars. "But it can't be a star. Stars are big things! Stars can't flash every one and a quarter seconds, one and a third seconds." So maybe it's a satellite in a curious orbit? Couldn't find a stable orbit, gave it 23 hour 56 minute... maybe it's somebody in the next lower laboratory. Couldn't find it. Another of the academics and his grad student who had a separate radio telescope on the same site, totally separate system, its own receiver and everything, could they see it? And I remember when we sest up that experiment, the way the telescopes were aligned, my telescope saw it first and then his should have seen it second. And my telescope saw it and his didn't. And awful moment. The two faculty members and myself are sort of puzzling, what could it be that shows...? The other grad student stayed by his recorder, and five minutes later, there's a shriek, "Here it is!" He had miscalculated by five minutes when his telescope would see it. At least it was only five minutes. If he'd miscalculated by 15 minutes or 25 minutes, we'd have all gone home. (laughs) But it's now seen by a separate telescope, separate system. It's not that Jocelyn has wired something up ridiculously. It's something beyond the observatory. So that was a very big step. And we gradually worked on it. A postdoc took two of my receivers, tuned one of them up in frequency slightly, tuned the other down in frequency slightly, and observed the pulsar as we were now calling it with these two receivers. And the signal appeared first in the high frequency, higher frequency, and then in the lower frequency. And this is a signature of dispersion. As a radio wave travels through an ionized medium, the high frequencies travel slightly faster than the low frequency. And how much faster depends on how many electrons. So he's got a measure of how many electrons there are between us and the thing, whatever it was. It's putting it out a couple of hundred light years away. So it's not somebody in the next-door laboratory or in a laboratory in Cambridge. It's 200 lightyears away. It's astronomical. And then I found a second and a third and a fourth, all from different parts of the sky. All with slightly different repeat frequencies. And so we have four of these things, we have a class.
MAURA: So, you've discovered pulsars. You have a new class, and this discovery won the Nobel prize in physics.
MAURA: How did you feel at the time about not being one of the recipients of this Nobel prize?
BURNELL: So I had long left radio astronomy by this time. I was working in x-ray astronomy. It's actually a very special day. X-ray astronomy is done with satellites and our satellite launched at 8 o'clock in the morning. And all seems to have gone well and we've all drifted back to our offices, and then at midday somebody comes roaring into my office, "Have you heard the news? Have you heard the news?" Oh god, the satellite's gone. And it wasn't, it was the announcement of the Nobel prize. And he explained what he was so excited about. I thought, "That's great!" And he was dumbstruck. He thought, "You should be angry." Actually, I wasn't angry. That was the first time that the Nobel physics prize had been awarded to anything astronomical. And I knew instantly that that was creating a precedent, opening a door, but a lot of my contemporaries, other grad students, other postdocs, were pretty angry on my behalf. And Nobel became "No-Bell" prize. I wasn't particularly angry. I was much more pleased that for the first time, the physics prize has gone to something astronomical and was a little bit proud that it was my stars that had finally convinced those physicists in Stockholm that there's good physics in astrophysics.
MAURA: And today you still have the same feeling towards it?
BURNELL: Yeah, yeah. But also note how many more astrophysicists have won that Nobel physics prize.
MAURA: And tell me about coming to Phys Con. What makes it special for you?
BURNELL: It's fantastic to be in such a big group of physicists. Britain is a much smaller country, and we simply couldn't muster that number of physicists all together. It's also a body that can attract some very good speakers, so we have some really interesting talks, which is fun, but I also enjoy meeting the students and hearing what life is like for a physics student these days. I'm also learning more about the geography (laughs) of the United States in the process.
MAURA: It's big. (laughs)
BURNELL: It's big and varied.
MAURA: It's my understanding that you've been attending Phys Con for a while. What do you think distinguishes this generation of physicists from past generations?
BURNELL: I think to put it bluntly, they are less nerdish. (MAURA: (laughs)) They are more aware of what's going on in the world. They are more aware of social forces, shall we say? I think generally more widely thoughtful than some of the older generation of physicists who were very focused on physics, and the hell with everything else. (laughs) Thank you very much.
MAURA: Thank you very much for taking the time.
JAY GROWL: I'm Jay Growl. I am from Richmond, Virginia, and I go to Randolph-Macon College.
MAURA: Is there a physicist that you find inspiring?
JAY GROWL: John Mather. I mean just everything that he's doing now and the Webb Telescope has revolutionized how we look at the galaxy and the universe. It's just so amazing, all the stuff he's done.
MAURA: Do you have a favorite physics fact?
JAY GROWL: I really like, I don't know if this is much of a fact. I like learning about Tycho Brahe. He did a lot of stuff, like he was Kepler's predecessor, and did a lot of stuff with Mars and orbits and all that kind of stuff, and I like learning about him, because of how interesting of a person he was. I mean he had a pet moose that he got drunk one night, and it fell down the stairs and ended up actually dying. It's kind of sad, but also funny, and he was just such an eccentric person. I think it's really interesting.
MAURA: Yeah, very eccentric. Since we have a tendency to glorify people in history, (JAY GROWL: Yeah.) it's nice to know that he was just like us. Thank you so much.
KEAVENEY: My name is Aidan Keaveney, I am from Appalachian State University. I am also the SBS associate zone councilor for North and South Caroline. I think I gotta say my favorite physicist is John Mather. he does a lot of really cool things, won the Nobel prize for the COBE satellite, head project scientist for James Webb. Gotta say John Mather.
JUSTIN: What field of physics do you study and why?
KEAVENEY: Right now, what I'm most interested in is science policy, education, and communication, because I believe that a lot of the issues that we as a world community face today have a scientific stake in them, be it climate change, infectious disease, nuclear nonproliferation, and so I'm interested in the relationship between the scientific community, government, and the general public. And so I'm interested in how can we as scientists help make the world a better place using scientific thinking and the background that we have.
JUSTIN: Wonderful responses. We really appreciate you joining us today, Aidan.
KEAVENEY: Thank you, happy to.
JUSTIN: Hi, I'm Justin Shapiro, here from the centennial meeting of SPS. And I'm with Dr. John Mather, senior project scientist for NASA for the James Webb Space Telescope and Nobel prize laureate. Dr. Mather, how are you today?
MATHER: Very well, thank you. Thanks for inviting me to do this.
JUSTIN: I wanted to start by asking you, in 2006, you were awarded the Nobel prize for physics along with George Smoot for your discovery of the black-bodied form and an isotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Could you explain your research and how it has improved our understanding of the universe?
MATHER: Sure. Well, of course, what is this cosmic background radiation? It is thought to be, and really seems to be, the remnant of the early universe when it was very hot and very dense. So it's cooled down to a temperature of just about 3 degrees Kelvin, which sounds cold to us, but it was still really hard to measure. So it was predicted back in 1948. It was discovered sort of by accident in 1965 by people who were not looking for it but were very thorough and they got their Nobel prize for discovering it. That was Penzias and Wilson. So now our job was, well, measure it. See if it's really the remnant that it is supposed to be. And what can it tell us? So the first question: is it the remnant? Predictions say it must have a black-body spectrum, which is to say it has no color at all. Only a temperature but no extra colors. So our job was to measure that with the cosmic background explorer satellite. So it included a spectrometer that compared the reference black body that we flew, a piece of black plastic with a known temperature, to the sky itself and made a differential comparison which in the end was good to 50 parts per billion. So definitely we concluded that the sky has a black body form just as predicted from the expanding universe story. So that was number one. The second one was a measurement of the map of the cosmic background radiation and predictions said, well, maybe it's not exactly the same brightness in every direction. So there should be several things going on. Number one, there's local interference, because we live in the Milky Way galaxy full of warm electrons and not very warm dust grains. And then of course you have the Earth is moving relative to the rest of the universe, so there should be a doppler shift effect of that. And then there could be something else left over from the earliest moments of the universe, and that's called the cosmic anisotropy. And we had an instrument that was designed just to look for that, and it had never been discovered before that. Even Hawking said it was the most important scientific discovery of the century, if not of all time. By the way, people call it the Big Bang, which is a rotten name because it makes people think of a firecracker, which is finite, but we actually see an infinite universe expanding into itself, as far as we can tell, so the firecracker analogy is as wrong as it could possibly be, but it's the name that has stuck.
JUSTIN: So you were rightly awarded the Nobel prize, along with George Smoot. Can you describe your immediate reaction upon learning that you won the Nobel prize?
MATHER: Well, I was certainly thrilled to see it and hear it, and now I thought, well, now my job is different. I have to explain all this to the entire planet. And so I'm going to be a very public figure from here on. And I don't want to change what I'm doing, because I'm already at that time working on the James Webb Space Telescope, so that's my real job.
JUSTIN: What is the ceremony like?
MATHER: My goodness, well the ceremony is very formal. It's just slightly intimidating. The actual ceremony is all of us Nobel laureates to be are sitting out there on the stage in a row, and the king of Sweden and his family and the members of the Swedish academies are on the other side of the stage, and we're in front of an audience of many, many hundreds of people. My name is called first because I'm actually first in the list, so you have to stand up and walk over to the right spot, bow to the king, bow to the committee, bow to the audience, then receive the actual diploma, which is a hand-painted diploma, and say thank you and you go back down, and then George Smoot comes after me, and then the others. So it's a remarkable thing.
JUSTIN: Where do you keep your hand-painted Nobel diploma?
MATHER: Oh, it's in a box in the basement. (JUSTIN: Okay.) I don't have a display spot in my house. I don't actually like to display all those things. I just like to say I'm doing my job, and I don't let it fall... distracted with words and things like that.
JUSTIN: I want to take this back to your early days investigating the cosmos. How long have you been interested int he cosmos, and what in particular sparked that interest?
MATHER: Oh my goodness. I can't remember back to when I wasn't a scientist. So I grew up in the countryside. My dad was a scientist, but we were on a research farm for Rutgers University, so I just had a lot of quiet time to read and think and get all the books from the library and look at the sky and pick up fossils, and go out to see the Museum of Natural History in New York City, see the planetarium show, see the bones of dinosaurs and the fishes and hear about evolution. And see the volcanoes and see the giant meteorite they have there and say, "Well that came out of the sky, how did that happen?" So pretty soon, I'm excited about astronomy. That's around the time that Mars was really close to Earth, and people said, "Maybe we finally have a chance to see the canals—" which weren't there. But anyway, so I'm really young and really hooked already in the cool things there are to do.
JUSTIN: Now moving a bit forward, actually, to the present day, you are currently the senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope. Could you describe eh history of this project and perhaps name some significant moments in its history?
MATHER: Sure. I joined the project in late '95, which is 27 years ago now. A committee had already written a book that said, "Please build us this telescope."And it was chaired by Alan Deresler and it was beautiful and poetic and inspiring and when I saw the book and when I was offered a chance to work on this telescope, I said, "Absolutely, that's what I want to do. I don't know how long it's going to take, I don't know how hard it's going to be, but it is absolutely worth doing." because from my perspective as an instrument builder, the path to discovery is build something that nobody has ever had before, and you will discover something. So okay, it's pretty clear this is the next tool that astronomers really, really need. Even if it's hard, even if it takes almost forever, it's worth doing. So that was '95, so it took us a while to assemble teams and in 2002, we finished organizing an international partnership. Then we kept on going, and pretty soon discovered that we didn't have enough money and time in the budget. After a little while, this got to be too hard, so I had to ask for more from Congress. Anyway eventually we got all the funds that we needed. A couple of times we had this happen to us, we needed more. And so we were instructed to please get it right this time, and do not keep coming back to Congress with a little more ask every year. So eventually we did as far as we could tell, and then we were getting along towards about 2018, and then suddenly, ah, it's a little harder even then, we thought, but we had enough money in the budget. Just it's going to take more time, and then after that, COVID came around, which slowed down our work a bit. But the upshot was, we launched on Christmas day of 2021 in French Guiana, and the rocket went up and performed exactly the best way it could possibly have done, and that means we now have extra fuel compared with what we budgeted, and we have a hope of operating the telescope for 20 years. Which is much more than the five that we promised.
JUSTIN: That's quite significant.
MATHER: Yeah. Which means that some people who are just being born today could use the telescope. So we already have flooded the world with beautiful pictures, and we should be getting to understand what they mean.
JUSTIN: You say you're flooding the world. I've been pretty impressed with the public rollout, and the effectiveness of scientific communication in the context of the James Webb Space Telescope. It seems like most folks who are paying attention are pretty excited about the (crosstalk 23:47) it's delivering.
MATHER: Yeah, yeah, they really are. The astronomers are thrilled because it's doing what we said we would do, and the public is thrilled because the pictures are beautiful. And in between, we have the story of what does it mean? So I'd like to say, by the way, that astronomers see everything twice. First we see with our eyes, with the picture, and then we see with our imagination, because we have to build up a story of what does that picture mean and how did that object grow and how is it moving and what is it doing? And what's going to happen next? So we have imagination as well.
JUSTIN: So thank you Dr. Mather for joining me here at the centennial meeting of SPS. Is there anything else you'd like to say before we end the interview?
MATHER: Well, I just, I love the SPS, so I'm glad we're here.
CAMPAGNA: My name's Quinn Campagna. I'm a third year grad student at the University of Mississippi.
MAURA: And you also have an interest in physics podcasts, can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
CAMPAGNA: Yeah, so I run a podcast called Nobelesse Oblige, where we rank all of the Nobel laureates.
MAURA: Do you have a personal favorite Nobel laureate?
CAMPAGNA: I'm a big fan of Enrico Fermi. He's one of my kind of physics heroes, because he was kind of one of the last people to be kind of equally good at both theory and experiment, and I've always had an interest in both and how they interact with each other and feed into each other.
HÖRST: I'm Dr. Sarah Hörst. I'm an associate professor of planetary science at Johns Hopkins University.
JUSTIN: Thank you, Dr. Hörst. My first question for you is, could you please describe your research background?
HÖRST: I am a planetary scientist born and raised. That's what I always tell people. So my undergraduate degree is actually in planetary science, from Caltech. I also have a bachelor's degree in literature, which is kind of I guess a weird thing, but there were two planetary science literature double majors in my graduating class, so... (laughs) It couldn't have been quite that weird.
JUSTIN: Thank you. You said "born and raised." I was wondering if you could tell us, when did you first become interested in the planetary sciences and why?
HÖRST: I was always really interested in space. I think that's super common for kids, right? We always like to joke, like, kids love robots and space and dinosaurs. So if we could just find space dinosaurs using our space robots, it would be the trifecta. And I guess I never grew out of it. I think one of the other things is that I spent a lot of time in Montana as a child. We have very dark skies, which is really a blessing. A lot of people, an increasingly large number of people don't have access to dark skies, and so I think I spent a lot of time outside kind of exploring the natural world as a child, so I was really able to see the stars at night. And I think that that also kind of has a big impact on the way that you think about the world. If you don't really have the opportunity to see the sky much as a child, I think you don't necessarily have those moments where you can think about what else it out there and have that spark of wanting to know what else is happening.
JUSTIN: I think that's certainly true. And some of us are very lucky. Now I want to speak a little bit about the research you're doing now. Your team demonstrated that it is possible to simulate the atmospheres of different planets and moons in the laboratory. How did you do this?
HÖRST: (laughs) I mean so our experiments have, I think like most of science or maybe all of science at this point, a lot of heritage. And the heritage for our experiments I think goes back to two kind of transformative things. The first one is the very famous Miller-Urey experiments where they were very focused on the origin of life, right? They weren't trying to necessarily simulate an atmospheric chemistry, they were just trying to figure out how the chemicals that are required for life on Earth might have formed. But then kind of playing off of those experiments, Carl Sagan, who most people know him as Grand Science Communicator Cosmos Carl Sagan. For me, the work that was done in his lab, it is his shoulders that we stand on, and those of the people that he worked with for a long time, and so he was the one who kind of started trying to figure out how to use similar types of experiments to what Miller and Urey had done, but to simulate atmospheric chemistry for a whole range of questions. They were trying to figure out why the great red spot is red. Spoiler alert: we still don't know. (laughs) He was very interested in Titan. Titan was one of his great loves, and so it was that history that we kind of built off of, and when we started building my lab at Johns Hopkins, we kind of looked at, you know, there's a handful of these experiments in the world, and we looked at all of them and what things they were capable of and all the things we had learned over the past 10-15 years, and really tried to figure out like, okay, we don't want to just simulate Titan's atmosphere. We don't just want to simulate solar system atmospheres. We now know that there's more planets than stars, at least in our galaxy, which is really overwhelming (laughs) as a planetary scientist, because that's a lot of work. And so we wanted to build something that could simulate this whole range of atmospheres. I'm saying "we" a lot right now, because there's a research scientist who works in my group named Chao He who actually got to Hopkins a couple of months before I did, and then we spent many, many months in my office with the white board drawing things and changing them around and going and talking to people in engineering to try to figure out different ways to do stuff before finally settling on a design for our setup, so that we were able to do this whole range of atmospheres. And so kind of a combination of basically trying to take the best pieces of what everybody else had done before to try to do something a little bit new.
JUSTIN: Now, the James Webb Space Telescope is going to allow us to look at the universe with such a clearer picture than what's come before. How is it going to benefit your research?
HÖRST: One of the reasons why we had other planets in mind when we were designing our chamber was JWST, right? There have been this kind of smattering of measurements of atmospheric composition using some space-based telescopes and some ground-based telescopes, and that technology is still developing, and they're already doing great work. They'll do great work int he future, but JWST is doing these really groundbreaking atmospheric composition measurements of exoplanet atmospheres and the thing is that I think we tend to think of the solar system as having this wide range of planets, right? We have icy moons, we have Mercury without its atmosphere. We've got Venus with sulfuric acid rain. See, we think like, oh, there's all kinds of planets, and then when you start looking at the exoplanets, you realize very quickly there are so many planets that we just, we have no idea about, because we've never studied them in our solar system. It also means we hadn't necessarily done models or experiments or anything to understand them, because we didn't even know they existed. Now we know they exist, we're trying to get this data back, well how are you going to understand it? We started, I mean like eight years ago, working very closely with some members of the exoplanet community to start doing experiments that were relevant for the types of planets that they were going to be studying with JWST. For us, we're really just, I mean at this point, I would say we're like on-call. You know, it's a little bit like Ghostbusters. You need us, like, (laughs) if they have a planet that they're trying to understand better and they think that experiments would be beneficial to try to figure out the chemistry or understand what molecules are seeing or something like that, we're ready to do that.
JUSTIN: And it sounds like the telescope is, I mean, really, remarkably reshaping our understanding of the universe in quite a short operational lifespan so far. So I won't give it away a little bit, but we've mentioned science communicators, Carl Sagan, perhaps one of the best science communicators of the 20th century. I want to talk about something adjacent to that, which is pedagogy. So I know you work closely with primary and secondary school teachers, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that work.
HÖRST: Yeah so one of the things that's kind of weird about planetary science is that you don't really get much of it in k12 education in the United States. You'll learn the names of the planets and the order of the planets, and you might learn a little bit about them, and that's kind of it. And one of the things that's kind of sad about that is, as I mentioned before, kids love planets. (laughs) And so I was talking with a colleague at one point, and we were talking about how there are lots of ways that you can use planetary science in a classroom that do not require planetary science to be in the state standards for that class, right? So if you are reading or you're doing math, or talking about the scientific method, that's something that's in the state standards in most states, and you can use planetary science as your example, and then the kids get excited because they're not reading some boring story about Jack and Jill doing whatever. They're reading about the Perseverence rover on Mars, right? What we started doing is running workshops with k12 teachers that are basically like, "Here's how you can use the stuff that the students are going to get excited about in your classroom." And so we have a theme every year and so we get scientists who study whatever the theme is, come and they'll stay with us and do the workshop and talk about what's cutting-edge these days. What can you go home and tell your class on Monday that they're going to be like, "Hey, this Mars scientist just told us this secret," right? But then also we have lots of hands-on activities. We have a bunch of time where the teachers get to brainstorm with each other. What are going to be the barriers to implementation? How would you have to modify this activity in your classroom context? In the best way that education is, it's very much a two-way street, and we spend a lot of time learning from the k12 teachers what, as planetary scientists, we can do to support them. And then theyr'e able to take that stuff back into their classrooms. That also helps connect them to a network of people where, you know, if one of their kids asks some great question about Uranus and they don't know the answer, instead of just saying, you know, I don't know, they can say, "I don't know, but I have a friend who might." You know, the kid actually gets that connection instead of just saying, "oh, you know, I don't know." So it's been really rewarding. It's super, super fun, and k12 teaching is really hard, I think. Especially the past couple years, but it's just always-- it was always so amazing to me that we'd have 50 teachers show up on a Sunday, giving up an entire day of their weekend to come learn all this stuff, because they really were invested in trying to figure out how it would be the most impactful for their students.
JUSTIN: It seems to me that if you want to build a science literate and science curious public, you really do have to start early. In primary and secondary education.
HÖRST: Yeah, absolutely, and I think one of the other things that we all very much take to heart is that in a lot of states, talking about climate change in k12 schools is very controversial. You can use Venus as an example, and you can do it in such a way that people might not notice. (laughs) "Let's talk about the greenhouse effect on Venus." That's not political. It's just Venus doing its thing. And help them get the concepts, and so I think that's another reason why we really want to connect with those students, and I think we've seen this with the pandemic too, I mean, science literacy is actually having an impact on the quality of our lives. And that's only going to become more true as climate change has more impacts than it's already having. And so that's one of the reasons why a lot of people in our community try to interact with the general public, whether it's through teachers or Twitter or talks or whatever, because we recognise that the situation, in some sense, I think is kind of dire, and what we're doing isn't particularly political. And so we can kind of use what we're doing as a gateway for science literacy without having so much of the politics involved.
JUSTIN: Well, Dr. Hörst, I just wanted to say thank you very much for joining us, more or less live, from SPS.
MAURA: It's live!
JUSTIN: Yes. (both laugh)
ARNEZ: My name is Sebastian Arnez, George Mason University.
JUSTIN: Okay, what field of physics do you focus on and why?
ARNEZ: I'm an astrophysicist, actually. And I currently do research in exoplanets. Most importantly the test fallout missions that me and my research group do.
JUSTIN: Oh cool. We just interviewed Dr. Sarah Hörst, so I mean she'll be on-- if we can use your audio, she'll be on the same podcast as you. So what else do you want us to know about your passion for physics?
ARNEZ: Ooh, so I've always wanted to do-- I always knew I was going to be an astronomy person, a grown up, since I was in kindergarten, five years old. I was always that one kid who had an astronomy book in class. And I was always that one kid who begged their parents to buy them all of the astronomy books at the Scolastic fair. So I've known I've always wanted to do this since I was in elementary school, and so I've always had my eye set on it, and the fact that I'm also a generation, from my family, that, you know, they immigrated here in the 1990s, it's also driven me to push myself to do as much as I can.
JUSTIN: Seb, thank you so much for joining us today.
ARNEZ: Thank you so much for having me.
JUSTIN: Of course. (break) I'm Justin Shapiro, here with Maura Shapiro and Dr. Julie Pollard-Larkin of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Pollard-Larkin, how are you today?
POLLARD-LARKIN: I'm doing great, thank you Justin and Maura for allowing me to have this interview with you guys.
JUSTIN: Yes, and thank you for joining us at 7 a.m., we appreciate it. We know that Mae Jemison was one of your influences, so could you tell us a little bit about, or as much as you want, (POLLARD-LARKIN: Sure.) could you tell us about what her work and life mean to you?
POLLARD-LARKIN: Okay, Dr. Mae Jemison. This woman was the first Black woman to go to space. She was literally a trailblazer and a history maker, so this makes you just tingle, because it's like back then, there weren't a whole bunch of women. Her achievement, having all the degrees that she had, securing all of the titles within engineering and everything, and still making it through the very rigorous trials that it takes to become a NASA-declared astrononaut, and making it in space in 1993? The whole world was ablaze with her photos. Before that, no one was really imagining Black women going to space. No-- and so as a young, precocious, chubby little child in Miami, FL, I was getting the Volvo magazine from my parents, and I still remember this, coming through the garage, opening up the mail, and then seeing Mae Jemison floating in space on the cover. And I was just like, "What in the world is this?" I thought it was fake at first. I was like, "Why do they (laughs) have this (inaudible 37:06) woman just floating around?" And I realized, "Oh my god, this is real. This is a possibility." My entire expectations for myself changed in an instant. I never even imagined that that was a possibility for anyone. And then once i saw that, if she could do it and everyone's-- if you go to different community outreach events, they'll tell you if they can see it, then they can be it. They can achieve it. And that's what happened to me. I realized, guess what Julie, you can do things so much bigger than just, you know, trying to be important in Miami. You can literally leave the Earth. And so she took all the blinders off. She made me want to fight and be gritty every single day, and try to be a better person than who I was before, learning, growing, and experiencing and helping others.
MAURA: What is medical physics and how did you become interested in it?
POLLARD-LARKIN: Oh my goodness, medical physics to me is the best sub-specialty of physics that you can imagine. Why? Because it allows you to use your physics skills for taking care of others. And so it's a combination of utilizing physics principles to understand how to image disease in its early stages, as well as how to utilize high-energy linear accelerators to treat disease and stop it in its tracks.
MAURA: And what piqued your interest in medical physics?
POLLARD-LARKIN: The reason why I got interested is because all of a sudden, cancer affected me personally. And then by that story was, my mom who all of a sudden got diagnosed with cancer, and by meeting her treatment team. It was about, I'll even sort of age myself, it was around the summer of 2000, and there we were in Miramar, FL and all of a sudden a gentleman coming out in a white lab coat from behind the linear accelerator, because they're just walking us through to help my mom get comfortable with the idea of the procedure. He came out and says, "Don't worry, I'm just a physicist. let me get out." And I was a physics undergrad student, and I asked him, "Why is a physicist here?" Because no one at that particular time was talking about medical physics in a big way at all. And the gentleman explained to me who he was and what he was capable of doing, and his purpose for my mom's treatment. And at that moment, I realized guess what? You may not go into materials science, Julie. You may not become an astrophysicist. You may help save other Mary Janes just like your mom by becoming a medical physicist just like that unknown physicist, (laughs) who I wish I had gotten his name, that I had met accidentally in 2000.
MAURA: Well, maybe that medical physicist will be listening to the podcast, will reach out.
POLLARD-LARKIN: (laughs) I would love that.
JUSTIN: Thank you for that. So you mentioned we're here with a lot of young physicists. (POLLARD-LARKIN: Yeah.) This is the centennial meeting of SPS, and I wanted to ask you, when did you join SPS and what do you think the organization can offer to young physicists?
POLLARD-LARKIN: So as a precocious young physics undergrad, and especially-- Maura, are you also from physics as well? Oh my gosh, so you know what the classroom was like in university physics classes. It's about 300 undergrads, right? And then how many of them are going to be girls, especially in like 1998 to 2000? There's probably only sprinkled about 10 girls in this huge classroom of 300. And about 80% of those girls were going into engineering. I was one of the lone girls interested in just going into pure physics. And then you can imagine, obviously, demographic-wise too, probably not much like any of the other people in the classroom. And I decided to, since I already stood out, why not go ahead and try to be a social champion as well? Why not? Everyone knows who I am anyhow. You’re a little lone chocolate chip there, why don't you become, you know, the actual president of the chapter? And they actually voted me in, and I was so excited. So that's when I heard about SPS, that's when I got engaged as early as I could, starting in 1999 just as a member and then 2000 and later as president for my little chapter in University of Miami.
MAURA: You mentioned a little bit, really standing out in your physics courses. And that inspired you to start to work towards social changes in physics. Can you talk a little bit about that work?
POLLARD-LARKIN: Oh for sure. Equity and university inclusion. What I want you guys to know is that as a young person, and you're just a scientist, all you care about is the science. You don't think about how people will see you, because the funny thing, I think for all of us, and we just sort of know it, you don't realize you're different until people notice it and point it out. And so when I got to see that there were going to be some barriers and that there were some obstacles that I would have to work around. I realized that instead of just trying to get myself through, my biggest goal was to make sure that I would not be alone at the end of my career. And so every single opportunity that I get ot speak to people who are either younger, and sometimes even older, than me, I explain what they can change on their end too. I want to encourage. That's all I'm here for. I am a physics cheerleader.
MAURA: So you have a number of publications. Has there been a favorite aspect of your job or a favorite publication that you've enjoyed being part of?
POLLARD-LARKIN: Oh my goodness, Maura, that's a very good question. San Antonio 2019, for our AAPM annual meeting, I got to deliver my flash talk. And it's just a way of delivery where you'll give it in a super quick way, hint, flash, radio therapy, that helps us spare normal tissues while still giving us cancer kill. I got to deliver some of the first American data on that particular therapy, because all the work before then had just been done in Europe and so forth, and we were just trying to follow what other teams had done. And I got to deliver at that annual meeting for AAPM, and to a packed house, full of just people-- And honestly, it was like all of our forebears in medical physics were up at the front and everything, and I was speaking before the phenomenal Dr. Billy Lou, who is the lead person in America for flash radio therapy. I spoke before him. So being able to get to do that and just knowing I had that space and that moment, it was a (inaudible 42:42) moment for me, and I realized how everything came together, from that chubby little girl in Miami, FL holding a magazine cover, to all of a sudden getting to meet people who I never even thought I would ever meeting. And at this point, still feeling like I have so much more to give and so must more to learn and so much more to grow.
MAURA: What has been your favorite physical discovery or advancement in the past 100 years?
POLLARD-LARKIN: I have to admit, I like the uncertainty and just the promise of what flash can bring. And because we still don't understand biologically what principle is working to cause it to actually spare the normal tissues vs still killing the cancer cell. And so there's almost a (sniffs the air) Nobel prize in there. I'm not even lying. I know you guys are thinking, "Okay, Julie, we understand you liked it in San Antonio." But I do believe now that we're starting to have clinical trials, especially even with our pediatric cases? That we are eager. We need an answer for cancer. Oh, I did not mean to rhyme. I am so sorry. (both laugh)
MAURA: No, and we're going to quote you for that.
POLLARD-LARKIN: Oh my gosh, I'm sorry (inaudible 43:41), and I'm sorry AAPM. But we do need and answer to cancer. And people are eagerly trying to figure out, does flash truly work the way that we are expecting, and if so, if we can cure Nana and Grandpa, you know, and just literally in less than a second? Girl. (laughs) I have to get real with you. That is where the answer lies, because we are now seeing, at least one out of two people having to deal with this some way, personally. So due to that, I hope that we are able to the biological foundational principles for why flash works, and either say yay or nay about whether it should be used in the future. We need to know, because right now, we're walking into a grey space, but it's exciting. We haven't been like this, literally, when you guys started, the centennial, back in the early 1900s, think about it. That's when we finally were starting to utilize radiation therapy, and we were just, like, so excited. "Oh my god, you can see bones. You can potentially see a tumor!" Now, we can see cure in less than a second. If that is true. I want that figured out well before I go.
MAURA: And not one but two Nobels, because you could do medicine and physics. (POLLARD-LARKIN: Oh my--) Just stack 'em. (laughs)
POLLARD-LARKIN: Maura! That's how I want to think. Thank you, Maura. That would be incredible.
MAURA: And I think that would facilitate space travel, because you know, (POLLARD-LARKIN: Yes!) cancer is--
POLLARD-LARKIN: Yes, exactly. All the neutron dosage you get in during space travel. So I just see this working out, and (laughs)
MAURA: You can your two Nobels will be flying in space before we know it.
POLLARD-LARKIN: Oh my gosh.
JUSTIN: Well, Dr. Pollard-Larkin, thank you very much for joining us here at this centennial meeting of SPS. And on Initial Conditions.
POLLARD-LARKIN: Thank you guys so much, it was a pleasure.
JUSTIN: We're here at SPS, and I'm joined by Gareth from Angelo State University. Gareth, how are you today?
GARETH: I'm doing well, how are you?
JUSTIN: I'm doing well, thank you. I appreciate that. I wanted to first ask you, who is your favorite physicist and why?
GARETH: I'd have to say my favorite physicist is Stephen Hawking, because he just discovered so much about our universe and especially how black holes work. That's just kinda cool to me.
JUSTIN: What got you interested in physics?
GARETH: I don't know. I was just curious about how, you know, our world works. It's like looking at rainbows. It's like, how do those work? And learning how the light behaves in water moisture int he clouds? That's cool. It gets me interested in the world and it's that curiosity that drives me to learn more.
JUSTIN: That's excellent. I can tell you're really passionate about physics. Is there anything else you want us to know about your passion for physics?
GARETH: I mean, it's fun, and teaching people more about physics, it hits a spot somehow. It's like seeing people get excited whenever they look through a telescope or learn how electricity works? It makes me happy.
HORTON: I am Dr. K. Renee Horton. Like Horton Hears a Who. Currently I am airworthiness deputy for the Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration project. And as airworthiness deputy, it's kind of my role to make sure that the companies that we've hired, or actually that we are industry partners with, are doing things safely and in the manner that is in line with how NASA would do it, and that we are building something that's going to be worthy of being in the air, no risk.
JUSTIN: Thank you very much for that. My question gets back to kind of your early work in physics and engineering. And I'm curious about how you discovered your interests in physics and engineering.
HORTON: So discovering that I had that bug, right? Because it's a bug that bites you. I always talk about the telescope and nah, that's not actually quite the beginning. I lived in an area where there were nine of us as grandkids that would show up at my grandmother's house and there ain't enough toys for nine kids. And so we spent a lot of time outside in the backyard. And even in my home, before my parents got a divorce, we had a backyard. But that backyard had endless items in it to just keep us busy, right? We were allowed to have dogs and my brother, I just knew he was going to grow up to be a veterinarian. We planted gardens one year. We had a tree that had beehives in it, and so every year, that beehive had to be harvested. And so LSU would come out and harvest the bees, and we'd get to watch that. And so my love for science was just kind of natural to begin with. I was always into animals and I mean even down to the smallest little bitty ant. Like I wanted an ant farm, right? But I was allergic to ant bites. (laughs) You know, multiple ant bites, and so I always had a bug for science like that. A natural curiosity for science, but the telescope is what really just kind of opened up, like it was almost like a name for me. Like, I know that's kind of corny, but that's what it was. It was like I got the telescope, and the telescope made me realize that there was so much more to the universe than just us, and that there was so much more out there. And I wanted to be a part of that.
JUSTIN: Thank you. I hear this common refrain with a lot of scientists, that their interest in science comes from the world around them. The world of their childhood and the environment that they lived in. To bring it to the human level a little bit more, can you name some of your influences?
HORTON: I was really blown away with Mae Jemison, so when she first went to space, it was like, oh my god. Like she's amazing. But that wasn't a word in my vocabulary then. It was just like, I knew that she was doing something big and powerful in that, too, right? And then my other influences, a lot of my other influences came from home. My aunt was going to college and I thought that was some big stuff to be going to college, right? And then my dad worked in a plant, a chemical plant, and when he got ill, he had to be retrained, and he went back to college. And actually, me and my dad were in college the same time the first time. Because he had to be retrained. And so watching people just around me in my life really made a really, really big difference for me. I was really blessed to be able to have that.
MAURA: So you have some children's books. How did you get into communicating science to kids?
HORTON: It's always funny because people always asked me, "How did you get the-- how did you start the book?" And the book was a joke. I created this character-- like I saw a friend of mine and I said, "I want an avatar!" And she was like, "I'll call this guy." And I called the guy, and I was like, "Can you make me an avatar?" He made me (laughs) what I said I wanted, and I got this character now, right? And then I started putting it on talks, and people were like, "What's that? What's the next big project?" And I stood up there and I said, "I'm going to write a book." And so, a year later, someone said, "When is the book coming out?" And I went, "Oh, you really want a book?" And they were like, "Well you said you were going to write a book. What's this book going to be about?" And I was like, "It's going to change the face of STEM." And they were like, "We can't wait." And the next year, I worked on getting a team together, kind of like what the story idea was, and then boom, it came out.
MAURA: You've got to keep making jokes, then.
HORTON: (laughs) No. (all laugh)
JUSTIN: Speaking of the process of writing this book, why do you think it's important to communicate science to non-scientific audiences?
HORTON: It's important because when they can understand that the work that we're doing impacts their lives, for those that may be interested, it can really spark a different interest in them. But then, to be able to understand that something impacts your life makes it non-scary anymore. It makes it a little bit more acceptable. And so if we can learn to communicate what we're doing, one, you may interest somebody else, but two, you also could take away the fear of what you're doing away from somebody else.
JUSTIN: Pivoting now a little bit, earlier this season, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ron Mickens, who was involved with the founding of the NSBP, and we presented a little bit of the history, the early history, of the NSBP and its formation. But I want to ask you, when did you first get involved with the NSBP?
HORTON: 2003 or 2004. It was around the time I wasn't sure what I was going to do. It was after grad school and I chaperoned undergraduates to NSBP. And that was my introduction. I walked into that room, and I was blown away that there were so many Black and Brown people that were smart, really smart, and you could see it. Like they were sitting in these chairs having these intellectual conversations, and I was thinking, yo, I think I just found my home.
MAURA: So you have since become the president of NSBP. What are you most proud of during your tenure as president?
HORTON: Saving our organization. Our organization was going through a really rocky period, and the idea that it's here now and thriving again, especially when the older male presidents had actually said to me, you know, "Congratulations, you did a good job." And that meant a lot. Because these were guys that we had looked up to in the organization, and to be able to go in and, you know, ride it back up, made me feel really good.
MAURA: And the next generation of people can have the same experience as you did, where they find this new home in physics and it's really special.
MAURA: Do you want to talk a little bit about the diversity and inclusion work that you do?
HORTON: I got tired of walking into rooms and being the only. Just that simple. I would walk in-- I remember going through elementary school, I was one of two Blacks, in the gifted class, all the way up through high school. And it didn't really get annoying until you get really going on your career, you know? You really just think, "Okay, there's going to be a convergence at the career level or something." And then there wasn't. And then it was like, I know I couldn't have picked the only field that, you know, it's like this. And then you start meeting other people, and it's like, no, it's like that in this field, and it's like that in this-- And I was like, you know what, I've had it. People need to understand that for a lot of things to be successful, you need to have a multiple point of views, and you need to have different people who think differently, because if you think the same way and you keep doing the same thing, you're going to keep getting the same answer. But when you start allowing other people to bring their ideas to the table and what they have to bring to the table, and allowing those people to do that authentically as themselves, you get such a different output, and that output is just so much more successful.
JUSTIN: You said that you had some exciting things to tell us.
HORTON: Yes. (laughs) What are those exciting things? I recently applied for AstroAccess, which is an organization that is here to further those with disabilities going into space. And I was selected to be a part of their second flight cadre, and we fly on December 14th out of Houston. But it's for persons with disabilities, so I will fly along with 14 other people that have a various range of disabilities, so there are three other deaf or hard of hearing fliers, there are blind fliers, there are paraplegic fliers. There are amputees that will fly as well.
MAURA: Into space?
HORTON: We will do a zero-g, so we will go through microgravity.
JUSTIN: Oh wow.
MAURA: How do you prepare for something like that?
HORTON: It's been really interesting. We do a lot of paperwork. (all laugh) So there's a lot of paperwork, like if you die it's not our fault kind of paperwork. But we meet one hour every Tuesday with my deaf group, and you know, just to make sure. And I mean literally we are preparing like it's an experiment. Like people are having to make the decisions like this is what you need for that, this is what you need for this. Like how to make the experiments happen, because we get to do scientific experiments while we're on there. I know, it's pretty cool. And then have a regiment from Flight One, like everybody's going to take, involving caffeine and dramamine, and you know, make sure nobody gets sick and that kind of thing. Then they were like, "Do some spin chairs." And that thing makes me dizzy, so I'm not doing the spin chair very much.
MAURA: Dr. K. Renee Horton, thank you so much for your time.
SASHA: My name is Sasha (Campana 55:50). I'm from Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland, VA.
MAURA: What is your favorite part of this con?
SASHA: I really enjoyed the panelists yesterday. They talked about where they felt physics was going to go in the next 100 years, and where physics came from, basically, in the last 100 years. And it was really inspiring just hearing it.
MCCONNELL: Hi, my name is Brenda McConnell. I'm a senior and I go to St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.
MAURA: What has been your favorite part of this con?
MCCONNELL: All of the posters have been really cool. It's really good to be able to see the work that other people are doing, especially undergraduates. COVID kind of put a stop to seeing everyone in person, which made it harder to access their research, so it's been good to finally communicate with them and see all of the valuable contributions they're making.
MAURA: What is your favorite part of physics?
MCCONNELL: The community is hard to beat. I know... I mean, the field itself is great, and being able to engage yourself in discovery, learning new things. The best thing about physics is that you get to learn about how the universe works at a very basic level, but really the people are what make it inspiring.
MAURA: Thank you so much for talking with us.
MCCONNELL: Yeah, of course.
HOLT: I'm Rush Holt. I've had a checkered career in teaching, research, science administration, and elective politics, and I'm a physicist.
JUSTIN: Thank you. I want to talk a bit about your career. In 1999, you were sworn in as the second research physicist elected to the House of Representatives. How would you describe your perspective on public service as a trained physicist?
HOLT: Yeah well, you know, I come from a family of public servants. So I've always felt that I had kind of some obligation for that. It's also true that as a kid, I was interested in how the world works and how people get along. That's science and that's politics. I never saw any incompatibility. I had, from my earliest years, had been reading science journals but also the Washington Post. And so it wasn't such a huge step for me to go to Congress. And go into public service. I had worked as a congressional fellow at APS, AAAS, fellow for a year on Capitol Hill, so I knew the procedures, I knew the community. I knew a fair amount about it, and so in that sense, it wasn't a huge step. I wasn't stepping into a mysterious world, and because all my life I thought I'll probably be doing some public service, either part time or full time, it wasn't a big step for me in that sense, either.
JUSTIN: With that in mind, do you think that more scientists in general ought to run for office?
HOLT: Yes. I do. But I also think more scientists should be involved part time and full time in public policy places, whether it's serving on advisory boards or, you know, or working in regulatory agencies. Or just being around in an advisory capacity. I actually think everybody should be somewhat involved in electoral politics. I mean I think we have an obligation to do more than vote. We have an obligation to see that the process works well. So that applies to all citizens. I do think that because scientists have these habits of mind, the scientist's way of thinking, they have a special obligation to be out in the public sphere. Because public questions are best addressed if you start with the evidence. Kind of what is the situation? What is the state of affairs? And how do things work? And you can arrive at that better through empirical evidence and then analyzing that empirical evidence. Scientists can do that kind of out of habit. It's their frame of mind, it's their training. It's their habits.
JUSTIN: So in the past, you've pointed out that science education since the 1950s, roughly, has emphasized training new scientists, to the detriment of broader public engagement with empirical thinking. How would you like to see science education change, given those comments, and what are the benefits of broadening public engagement with the sciences?
HOLT: The way we've been doing science and teaching science for many decades now, here in this country, has created and widened a chasm between scientists and the general public. Scientists generally say, "Just give us the money and trust us to do the research and society will benefit." And the public generally says, "We will let you do your work because we can't understand it." The result is, we have a democratic society that is very technological and the general public that are supposed to be in control of their own destiny in a democratic society, they are supposed to be governing themselves, don't feel that they're capable of either using science or controlling science or benefitting from science, except that they willingly accept the products and processes that come out of science. And that's a bad situation. It means that people don't understand how science is done and so they don't understand that science is really an important way of understanding how things are and how the world works. So that the public can base the policies of executing their hopes and fears and dreams and aspirations on something real. So this has to do with how education was funded, it has to do with how the public came to regard science. That they didn't feel that it was democratic, popularly chosen, popularly executed. An awful lot of people looked at the way science was done and said, "Gee, I don't see anybody of my skin color there doing the science. I don't see anybody of my gender there, or very few, doing science." Or actually, "I see them snubbed," you know? When the woman did the work for the Nobel prize, it was the man who got the prize. You know, "I don't feel that this science enterprise really represents me and maybe doesn't really have my interests at heart."
JUSTIN: Thank you very much for taking the time to join us today, Dr. Holt.
HOLT: Thanks, Justin. Good to be with you.
MONA: Hi, I'm Corinne Mona, I am an assistant librarian with the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
JUSTIN: Amazing, thank you for joining us today.
MONA: Yeah, I'm happy to be here.
JUSTIN: I've heard of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
MONA: Oh have you?
JUSTIN: (laughs) It's a wonderful institution. I wanted to first ask you, who's your favorite physicist and why?
MONA: Oh, my favorite physicist is Vera Rubin, because I interviewed her biographer on her blog, so I got to learn a bit about her. And I just find dark matter pretty fascinating.
JUSTIN: Amazing. What field of physics are you most interested in and why?
MONA: So I love acoustics. I don't know terribly much about it, but whenever I interact with anything acoustics-related, I feel like it has like a tangible purpose, and I can kind of understand a little bit. And I'm also a musician, so it has some practical applications in my life.
JUSTIN: Amazing, well Corrine, thank you so much for joining us today.
MONA: Happy to be on.
JUSTIN: See you at the library.
MONA: See you.
MAURA: That concludes our not-exactly-live episode from Phys Con. I feel so proud and a little relieved that the future of physics is in the capable hands of the students that attended this conference.
JUSTIN: I agree, and I have to say, it was a real pleasure to talk to undergraduate physics students. Their enthusiasm for science is contagious.
MAURA: Special thanks to the Society of Physics Students for hosting such an incredible event, and for welcoming us with our pesky microphones and nosy questions.
JUSTIN: And thank you to all of our esteemed guests.
MAURA: Thank you to all the students for your participation.
JUSTIN: This episode was produced by Maura Shapiro with help from Kerry Thompson.
MAURA: Allison Rein is our executive producer.
JUSTIN: Initial Conditions is generously sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
MAURA: I'm Maura Shapiro.
JUSTIN: I'm Justin Shapiro.
MAURA: And you've been listening to Initial Conditions.
REIN: From the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics. Man, just the hardest line, but I nail it every time.