Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

I recently received this in the email:

Hello all!

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) is ready for liftoff this school year! We had an amazingly successful involvement fair last week, and we are about to jump off the launchpad!

We have a lot of new and exciting events coming up, and it all starts at our first event of the year this Thursday, August 30th at 5pm in Page Hall 240 where we will be drawing for the winner of the telescope raffle, as well as talking about the upcoming year! Our next 2 meetings are on Thursdays, September 6th and 13th at 5pm in the same room. There will be food!

I am excited to see you all there, and tell your friends to join us!

First meeting of the Astronomical Society

The Astronomical Society of Ohio State is an undergraduate organization with these goals:  1) to learn about topics in astronomy and educate others, 2) to provide support for undergraduate astronomy and astrophysics majors and minors, and 3) to create a social environment for anyone interested in astronomy.

The first meeting is this Friday Thursday!  From their recent announcement:

First Meeting Thursday, August 30th at 6:30 pm

The Astronomical Society will be having its first meeting this Thursday, August 30th. We will first be meeting at the Planetarium (5th floor of Smith Lab) at 6:30 pm, where we will talk about the club, meet each other, and make use of the solar telescopes on the roof. We will then go over to McPherson 4054 around 7:15 pm for pizza!

You can view the society on Facebook:  search for “The Astronomical Society at OSU”.

The Polaris Mentorship Program

Here’s an announcement I got about an exciting mentorship program for new STEM students in Physics and Astronomy. [The message has been lightly edited to include links and email addresses.]

Welcome to Ohio State! We’re writing to invite you to apply to Polaris, a mentorship program in the Physics and Astronomy departments. Polaris’s goal is to help get you started in your career in STEM, and to foster a diverse and inclusive environment, because we deeply believe that science is for everyone.
The program will meet once a week on Mondays from 1:50-2:45 pm (details are in an announcement and a syllabus). Most meetings will involve a discussion of a topic related to diversity and inclusion in STEM. Several meetings are devoted instead career development activities, like coding workshops and introductions to college level research. You’ll also be paired with a graduate or upper-level undergraduate mentor who can be a resource for any problems you’re having. You’ll have some time at each meeting to talk one-on-one with your mentor.
If possible, you can even gain one course credit for participating in the program! To apply, send email to with your name and dot number (the number you use to log into your e-mail), and we’ll give you instructions about how to register. 
Hope to see you soon!
Polaris Leadership Team


Empty chairs

Here’s a wonderful essay from 2014 called “Empty Chairs“.  In this, author Azza Cohen, at the time an undergrad major in history, discusses a number of important opportunities that are often ignored.  Chief among these is professor office hours.  Cohen writes:

During a Breakout trip last year, I asked David Super ’80, a professor of law at Georgetown and Princeton alumnus, for his best advice about Princeton. “Go to office hours,” he urged. “The saddest thing at Princeton is empty chairs at office hours.”

I encourage you to read the essay.  Go to office hours.  Take advantage of the opportunities given to you!

If you are in one of my classes. my office hours are Tuesdays from 2:00 – 4:00.  If you want to see me for an advising matter, see my online scheduling tool.  My office is 4033 McPherson Lab.

New mirror coating on the LBT

How do you make telescope mirrors so shiny bright?

Large astronomical telescopes use mirrors, rather than lenses to gather light.  The large mirrors are coated with a very thin layer of metal, say aluminum.  All the big glass does is hold this thin reflective coating in place.

For a nice diversion, watch the movie below of the recoating process for one of the mirrors at the Large Binocular Telescope.  The coatings are done in place.  First, the old coating is scrubbed off, and then a large vacuum jar is placed over the mirror.  Air is pumped out, and evaporated metal is sprayed on.

Credit:  Matthieu Bec, LBT

Astronomy 2895

Here’s a re-post from June.  If you haven’t taken this seminar yet, please consider it.  The seminar is especially important for students now entering the major.

I would like to bring your attention to our seminar Astronomy 2895.  This seminar is intended for first- and second-year students, but anyone can take it.  The course description reads

Prospective astronomy majors will meet weekly with different astronomy faculty to learn about current research topics, facilities, and opportunities available in the undergraduate astronomy program.

In the upcoming semester, we will have several lectures and Q/A sessions with faculty, postdocs, and senior students, who will tell us about their research into astrophysics, physics education, and many other topics. We will also have lots of discussion on study habits and survival skills for Astro majors, along with small research projects you can undertake in areas that interest you. This is a great way to see the variety of research and teaching opportunities in our department, to meet others who are excited by astrophysics, and (especially for early students) to explore ways to be successful in astronomy or any other topic.

The seminar meets Tuesday afternoons from 4:10 to 5:05 in 1005 Smith Laboratory.

Welcome reception for new Astros

This looks like fun!:

Subject: Meet us at the Astronomy Social! 

Dear Incoming Students, 

Between moving in and getting ready for classes, the beginning of the year can feel overwhelming. The astronomy community is here to support you, and we’d like to welcome you to Ohio State at our informal Astronomy Social. Come meet other astronomy majors, chat with grad students and professors, and enjoy some ice cream and popsicles! 

The social will take place on Friday, August 24th from 5:45-7 PM in Hitchcock 031. Please RSVP ( by the end of the day on Monday, August 20th.

We wish you the best of luck, and we look forward to seeing you!


The Astronomical Society 

More advice about grad school

The other day I was reading an article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The article discussed a guide for Ph.D. students in economics who are seeking professor jobs.  This guide, written by Dr. John Cawley (Cornell) is apparently well known in the economics profession. (The article itself is behind a paywall, but you should be able to view it if you are using an OSU computer).

The advice concerned how to select places to apply to.  It seemed to me that the advice also applied to those of you who are looking for graduate school or job opportunities.  Interestingly, the advice came in the form of a question to the author of this guide.  The reporter asked:

You make it very clear that the goal of a person’s search shouldn’t be to get a job in the highest-ranked department, but at a place where their work is understood and appreciated, and that they find enjoyable and can grow and improve. Why give that advice when it seems to be the opposite of what I’m sure some economics Ph.D.s hear from their advisers?

Dr. Cawley’s reply was:

That’s something I feel strongly about. There is often a misconception about getting a job at a “top 5” department, or at a university that will impress your parents or other people, without regard for how good a match it is for you. The problem with doing that is that your growth as a scholar depends on the quality of match, especially for that first job.

To me, this sounds spot on, and applies to people going to grad school.  Why put your sights on Caltech, if you would be happier and maybe therefore more productive at New Mexico State or Vanderbilt or Dartmouth?  Why apply to Harvard if 600 other people do, and you aren’t able to articulate why Harvard is just the place for you?

I bring this up because almost all students start their search for grad school by running down the list of “top N” places.  Instead, I would recommend having a long conversation with your adviser, or with profs that you know well, to discern what motivates you.  You also should find out what places have resources that you need, or where they do the research that interests you most.

So for those of you who will apply go grad school this autumn, please start thinking now about where you want to be, and start researching to find out which places can best help you get there.


Music inspired by astronomy












Just saw this in a NASA newsletter:

A new annotated guide (part of a series devoted to resources for enjoying or teaching astronomy) features over 250 pieces of music inspired by serious astronomy, including both classical and popular music examples. YouTube links are given for the vast majority, so you can listen to them. 

 Among the pieces included is:

1) a Hubble Space Telescope cantata,

2) eight rock songs about black holes with reasonable science,

3) a supernova piano sonata,

4) a musical exploration of the Messier catalog of nebulae, clusters, and galaxies,

5) a moving song about Stephen Hawking,

6) Moon songs by the Grateful Dead, George Harrison, and the Police,

7) piano pieces “for children with small hands” named after the constellations,

8) operas about Galileo, Kepler, and Einstein, and many more (including planetary topics from Asteroids to Venus). 

You can access this guide directly by going to:

Any favorites of yours on list list?  Any good ones that are missing?  Tell us in the comments below.

GRE scores and graduate school

If you will be applying for grad schools in Astronomy, Physics, or any other subject, you might want to check out an article from the AstroBetter blog about which schools require scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about how GRE scores should be used, and what (if anything) they predict.  The article linked above itself has many links that can give you a lot of background.  The American Astronomical Society (AAS) recently issued this statement on the GRE:

Given the research indicating that the GRE and PGRE are poor predictors of graduate student success, that their use in graduate admissions has a particularly negative impact on underrepresented groups, and that they represent a financial burden for many students in pursuing advanced degrees in the astronomical sciences, the AAS recommends that graduate programs eliminate or make optional the GRE and PGRE as metrics of evaluation for graduate applicants. If GRE or PGRE scores are used, the AAS recommends that admissions criteria account explicitly for the known systematics in scores as a function of gender, race, and socioeconomic status, and that cutoff scores not be used to eliminate candidates from admission, scholarships/fellowships, or financial support, in accordance with ETS recommendations.

Check out the article!  It’s very important.  This is one piece of information that you can use when putting together a list of places you are applying to.