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Aim of new lecture series: get people excited about physics, observatory

Photo by: Zachary D. Elick

Photo credit: Zachary D. Elick

Photo by: Zachary D. Elick
Written by: Zachary D. ElickApril 06, 2017

Written by: Zachary D. Elick

Sometimes widely-held notions by the general public don’t amount to much in the science classroom.

Students often come to class with a set of ideas about science and the laws of nature that eventually need to be adjusted by their instructors, said physics professor David Maloney.

“And in a number of places, the ideas that (students) have are OK and we can work with them,” he said. “However, there are also quite a few ideas where people believe this about how the physical world behaves, and the physical world actually behaves this way.”

That’s not to say the hopes of students of understanding complex or obscure scientific knowledge are hopeless, Maloney said. In fact, taking preconceived notions, debunking them and coming to new conclusions is a time-honored scientific tradition.

“What humans have done over the years is not just simply except those common sense ideas. They’ve said, ‘Wait a minute, does that really make sense? Does that work? … What’s going on?’” he said. “So, science has been a process of refining the common sense ideas to solid understanding of how the world actually behaves.”

Maloney will discuss this topic more in his presentation, “Science is Refined Common Sense,” at 7 p.m. April 28 in Kettler Hall Rm. 132.

The event is part of a new monthly lecture series, “Friday Night at the Observatory,” featuring a lecture from a member of the physics department and a visit to IPFW’s Undergraduate Fun Observatory. Each event is from 7 to 10 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

“We really want to let people know about the (physics) department and the opportunities that are here, particularly the observatory,” said Steve Gillam, assistant professor of physics.

Officially opened last October, the observatory is located across the street from IPFW’s main campus on West Baker Drive next to Ginsberg Hall. Its 8-inch optical telescope is enclosed in a 10 by 10 feet building with a 8-diameter rotating dome on top.

Gillam said he likes to take trips to the observatory with his astronomy students and members of the IPFW Astronomy Club student group whenever the weather permits.

“(The observatory is for students who have an) interested in astronomy, observing asteroids and veritable stars — whatever we are interested in looking at,” he said. “It’s a part of (teaching),  getting people interested in astronomy and giving them a place to do it.”

Gillam encouraged people interested in gazing at the stars who are not IPFW students to “like” the astronomy club’s Facebook page. He posts on the page whenever the group plans to take a trip out to the observatory, he said.

Astrophysics majors Travis Kreager and Josephine More missed the March 24 lecture, “Funny Games with Lasers,” presented by the chair of the physics department, Mark Masters. Instead, they spent that time in the observatory working on their own personal research projects — just for the fun of it, they said.

“I’m trying to look (at) and research galaxies, the different types of galaxies and how they are different,” More said.

“I’m still trying to decide exactly what I want to look into. I’m most interested in black holes, but trying to look at a black hole through a telescope is not possible quite yet, “ Kreager said with a chuckle. “I was also thinking about researching something along the lines of galaxies because that’s probably the closest I can get to looking at a blackhole.”