Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Galileo! Galileo!

Many physicists and astronomers consider Galileo Galilei to be the father of modern science. He was probably the first to suggest that the laws of nature could be understood with mathematics. Famously, his observations of the heavens put him in conflict with the church and he almost lost his head over the matter.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo's demonstration of the telescope (it was actually invented by a Dutchman, but after reading a report of it, Galileo managed to reproduce the device and improve it substantially). Because of this anniversary, 2009 has been declared the international year of astronomy.

But this blog entry is not about Galileo the astronomer. This entry is about another astronomer named Brian who started studying physics in the 1960s and finally obtained his PhD in astrophysics in 2008. This is not because he was slow, but rather because he took a long hiatus to do something else with his life. Nonetheless, he may be one of the world's best known astronomers now.

The reason I was thinking about Brian is that he has recently co-authored a successful popular book called "Bang!, the complete history of the universe" with an astronomy postdoc ("Junior Research Fellow") at Oxford and Somerville named Chris.

"Brian", is Brian May, from the amazing rock group "Queen". He left graduate school to have a career as one of the greatest rock guitar players of all time. I guess that worked out pretty well for him. But after years of rockin' out -- he decided to go back, at age 60, to finish up what he started. You can find his PhD thesis here. I haven't read it, but I'm told it is pretty solid. Here's a picture of him at the graduation ceremony.

"Galileo! Galileo! Galileo, Figaro! "

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