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May 26, 2015

Spaced Out

May 27, 2015

There’s nothing like enjoying a beautiful spring night outdoors – breathing in floral smells, listening to the symphony of crickets and staring up at a sky full of twinkling stars. This is my first spring with my new deck and my husband and I are out there as often as we can. In the last few weeks, he’s pulled out his telescope and started stargazing in earnest. He bought a book, subscribed to a sky calendar and even stayed up until 5 a.m. the other night studying the sky. I admire his quest for knowledge about the universe.

Me? I’ll admit it. I’m perfectly content to mindlessly stare up in the night…oooh, shiny, pretty things. My husband will start to tell me things about the sky and light years and stars and black holes and how many years ago something happened that we’re just seeing and I have to stop him. Not that I don’t appreciate his knowledge, but honestly? Space freaks me out.

I mean, I love riding Space Mountain, I think spotting a shooting star is cool and I’m all about "E.T.," "Close Encounters" and "Star Wars" (well, except for "Attack of the Clones"). But actual real life space stuff? Like I said, it freaks me out. I had an astronomy course in college and it was all I could do to keep from hyperventilating during class. I can’t explain it anymore than someone can explain an irrational fear of snakes or heights (oh wait, that’s also me), but really thinking about all that’s out there puts me in a panic. It’s just too much to think about or comprehend. It’s just too massive…it doesn’t get any bigger than the universe.

Luckily, not everyone has an irrational fear of talk of all things space. It really is the final frontier and I know it’s an important area of research and study.

Mark Voit and Megan Donahue are professors of physics and astronomy who are both internationally known for their research on galaxy formation and also happen to be married to each other. (I’m sure he’s thrilled he can talk about galaxies and such and not have his wife plug her ears and say, “la, la, la.”)

They’re part of a team of scientists who just published research about how supernovas help ‘clean’ galaxies. They also believe strongly in giving back to MSU in addition to research and teaching. They have generously supported the SOAR telescope and Abrams Planetarium and are planning additional ways to support astronomy education at MSU. Read more about them in the MSUToday article, Making a Difference with Science.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Abrams Planetarium installed a new high-end projection system that gives visitors, some 20,000 a year, a richer learning experience. Read more about Abrams in the MSU Alumni Magazine cover story, Abrams Planetarium at 50: Reaching Way Beyond the Stars.

I’m pretty sure if I ever had a conversation with MSU’s Chris Adami, I might run screaming from the room. Adami is a brilliant man whose research is so beyond anything I can imagine. He’ll be featured on Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman at 10 tonight in an episode titled, “Are there aliens inside us?” I honestly can't even think about that.

Even though there is plenty of research going on that confuses, confounds or even scares me, I’m glad that there are researchers throughout campus who aren’t afraid to dive in, even when they’re undergraduates.

Megan Kechner is an Honors College senior majoring in neuroscience in Lyman Briggs College and psychology in the College of Social Science. She is the recipient of a nationally competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to scholars committed to a career in science, mathematics or engineering who display intellectual intensity and have the potential for significant contribution in their chosen field. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Academic Opportunity, to learn more about her undergraduate research journey.

Undergraduate research wouldn’t happen without dedicated researchers to mentor students. S. Patrick Walton is an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science and the director of the CoRe Experience in the College of Engineering who believes deeply in mentoring students. He was the research mentor of MSU’s other Goldwater Scholar, Rebecca Carlson, who was featured last week in the STUDENT VIEW. Read his FACULTY VOICE: Life is Complicated and Busy to learn more about his work.

My husband, true Spartan that he is, never does anything halfway. He’s all into his new hobby and already talking about getting a better telescope. I think that’s great for him, but I’ll stick with wishing upon a star and leave it at that. While it’s not for me, I’m glad there are plenty of Spartans who won’t ever give up exploring and studying all there is to know about our vast universe. To infinity and beyond.

Spartans Will.  

Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday
twitter bird@LMulcrone

Photo of an image of Jupiter on the Abrams Planetarium's black light gallery by Kurt Stepnitz