Article by: Aparna Mohan
In 1994, renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan put things in perspective when he wrote, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know…thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines…every creator and destroyer…every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” The dot of course refers to Earth and the prose describing its contents functions as a deeply humbling and awe-inspiring reminder of the grandeur of our universe and our relative insignificance in it.
On August 20, 2015, a similarly humbling sentiment was expressed when ISM had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Daniel Holz, a man whose profession is defined by the exploration of this grandeur. With tenure at the reputed University of Chicago as Assistant Professor of Physics, over 60 papers published, 4,000 citations to his credit, and cutting-edge research on general relativity, astrophysics, and cosmology, Dr. Holz is extremely influential in the scientific community. He is also, quite excitingly, an ISM alumnus from the class of 1988.
From 3:00 to 4:30pm in High School Physics teacher Mr. Reeh’s room, Dr. Holz answered a vast array of questions from students on subjects ranging from his research to life at the frontier of scientific advancement. Many also used the opportunity to clarify some of the universe’s most fascinating mysteries from black holes to white holes, and the Big Bang to the Big Crunch. President of Astronomy Club and IB Physics HL student Louis Richez enthusiastically shared that one of the most interesting things he learned was “that the observable universe and a black hole share a lot of things in common, such as an event horizon and a singularity.” As an aspiring astrophysicist, he added, “I found his advice most interesting. Dr. Holz talked about the importance of doing research early on as well as the need for computer programming skills. Overall, I think his talk really gave us an idea of what to expect from pursuing physics in the future and what we can do to prepare for it.”
Mr. Reeh shares, “Personally I found it fascinating when he was talking about gravitational waves and how they would be detected. He seemed very confident that they would be discovered in the next few years and that’s really exciting, as it will open up whole new areas of physics.” Additionally he was impressed by the attendance and how engaged students were, as evidenced by the number and quality of questions asked. Overall, he also found the talk inspiring as Dr. Holz “really got across his love of the subject and passion for research.”
Beyond being on the brink of confirming the existence of gravitational waves, another exciting highlight of Dr. Holz’ career involves having worked extensively with American theoretical physicist John Wheeler who is remembered as one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, having defined the era with significant contributions to quantum mechanics and gravitation.
Dr. Holz last visited ISM in 2009, and we feel extremely privileged to have hosted him again this year.
Here’s to, as Richez concluded, revelling in the glory of being “poor souls in a vast universe trying to make sense of it all.”