03 November 2016

Reflection on the beginning of the universe

"The first moments of the universe are a great blossoming of astounding creativity. Reflect on the beginning of the universe and its relationship to the world in which we live today. What part of this story of our universe’s emergence evokes awe or wonder in you?" from Journey of the Universe coursera MOOC

Honestly, the part that most astounds me is how we, as humans, were able to craft and test theories so profound about the beginning of the universe. The depth of inquiry and expertise at mathematics evoke such wonder in me. As someone who tends to participate in academics on the literature and language side, I am awestruck by even the questions. How is it that human intellect can observe enough to begin asking these questions. And then learn and know enough to devise methods to find those answers.

The first interview I had after submitting my resignation was with the National Science Foundation. They had an open position as a public affairs specialist. I was very excited about the opportunity and had a wonderful conversation with the hiring manager and another team mate. As we talked, I believe that I was able to meet all of their interests except on one front: I didn’t have a science background. I didn’t even really have a demonstrable interest in science.

They explained that although the job didn’t require an experience in science, they found that the people who really succeed and enjoy their positions at the NSF are people who have always been fascinated by science, who keep up to date on new discoveries, who have side hobbies on scientific topics.

I know now that I could have given several great answers to their “interest in science” question:
  • Work on sexual and reproductive health - I have five years’ experience!
  • Interest in nutrition and food production - working with rice producers in Togo
  • Climate change and environmental protection - did you know that I once had a singing gig on radio to promote recycling when I was a kid? Plus work on environmental protection in Togo
  • Investment in girls’ education, particularly in STEM fields. Admittedly, my role was to promote other womens’ interest in science, rather than my own but I set priorities for scholarships, grants, and exchange opportunities that focused on building up women’s participation in STEM fields.

Me (far left) with the TechWomen alumni who put together a Hands-On STEM project encouraging young high school students to mentor middle school students. (Notice my working gear earrings?!?) Album
What I’m trying to say is that I am very interested in science but I haven’t studied it; I do not have the deep knowledge to know how to ask these questions about the origins of the universe. But I love learning about it and I’m so happy to expand my understanding, albeit superficially!

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Vera Rubin, an American astronomer who helped prove the existence of dark matter.

"In a spiral galaxy, the ratio of dark-to-light matter is about a factor of ten. That's probably a good number for the ratio of our ignorance-to-knowledge. We're out of kindergarten, but only in about third grade."

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