The Sky Crew Takes on Gravitational Waves

microphone with nhpr logoHey all! It’s already late October, which means midterms and student advising in my world. Yesterday, I was once again invited to join NHPR‘s radio program The Exchange to discuss astronomy with host Laura Knoy and astronomers John Gianforte and Mal Cameron. We had a lovely time talking about a number of subjects and spent the first 20 minutes covering the recent gravitational wave discovery of colliding neutron stars, though we easily could have devoted the whole hour to it.

Listen below or find it on Apple Podcasts.



DragonCon 2017 is Almost Here!

On the Science Track in 2016 with Kishore Hari, Raychelle Burks, Eric Spana, and Mohamed Noor.

As a new academic school year is about to begin, I’m also looking forward to the yearly celebration of geek culture that happens every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta… DragonCon! I’ll be an attending pro and appearing on the Science and Space tracks once again, as well as on panels for a few other tracks, talking science and sci-fi. From Star Trek to the Expanse, and exoplanets to scientific slap-fights, it is sure to be a super fun time.

I’m limiting my cosplay this time around, as I realized that prepping for classes always manages to make that impossible, but I will be reprising my eclipse Ms. Frizzle and wearing my Battlestar Galactica greens. SSWA!

Here’s where you can find me and say HI at the Con:

If you’ve been following me on social media, you have already heard about my, eh, mishap in Illinois. Yes, I did trip and fall and sprain my ankle pretty badly. And, all things considered, it was TOTALLY worth it to see the total solar eclipse! But I’m not going to let it keep me away from DragonCon, just as I haven’t let it stop me at work. To make it more feasible, I did manage to get a knee scooter on loan. So I’ll actually be ROLLING around the Con! Too bad I don’t have more time/skill, because the scooter itself could have a kicking cosplay… see the resemblance?

Noisy Astronomer joins the Sky Guys!

Greetings from overwhelmed-professor-land! Heh, yeah, I’m alive and even occasionally on social media these days. But life as a tenure track professor keeps me pretty busy, even during the summer months.

I have some exciting science outreach stuff happening starting this month, starting off with my first appearance on NHPR’s The Exchange on Wednesday, August 9th! I’ll be joining host Laura Knoy and “the Sky Guys” John Gianforte and Mal Cameron to round up all the exciting astronomy news of the last few months. We’ll get you ready for the Great American Eclipse, discuss some important NASA milestones and missions, and a whole bunch of other astronomical stuff. Miss the Weekly Space Hangout during it’s summer hiatus? Get your fix with us! Listen on your radio in New Hampshire or online at 9am Eastern. It’s an hour-long call-in show, so join the fun.

Speaking of the eclipse, I’ll be back in the St. Louis area to see my very first total solar eclipse! I’m taking the advice of many experienced folks and enjoying this one all for myself, so no outreach the day of the big event. But I will be sure to post some links here in a future post.

After that, the semester starts in earnest, but I’ll also be at DragonCon and GeekGirlCon doing panels and hands-on science activities. I’ll post more on that later as well. Until then, I’ll see you on Twitter!

A Noisy Science Friday

header-logo-2Quick update! I’ll be on Science Friday today talking about how you can observe a meteor shower with just a radio. Plus, we’ll discuss how to build your own Itty Bitty Radio Telescope! I’m traveling over to a studio in St. Louis this afternoon to be on the second hour of the program, so you can see if your local NPR station carries that half or find the live streaming of Science Friday at their main website. I’ve also written a blog for them with even more instructions on how to build these homemade radio devices.

Update: The audio is posted! Thanks for all the lovely comments, and I’m happy to answer questions you have about building these happy little devices.

Conference Musings, and Making a Difference

Photo CC Sebastiaan ter Burg on Flickr
Photo CC Sebastiaan ter Burg on Flickr

For a natural introvert, conferences can be a tricky experience. There is an almost overwhelming constant interaction, listening, talking, speaking, questioning, and collaborating. However, that’t the thing that makes conferences incredibly valuable. Meeting and gathering in person is still crucial to ideas and projects even in this age of virtual meetings and presentations. This might not be good for the planet’s carbon footprint, but it is good for creativity.

I’m at the 126th annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. It’s not a very large meeting with roughly 100-150 participants, and it focuses on astronomy outreach and education, particularly in the Uniter States. There are several plenary sessions on a wide range of topics from new science standards to issues of diversity to training scientists to be good public communicators. I’ve gotten to know quite a few people in this lovely group over my last couple of years working in outreach and education.

Conferences like this get me excited and inspired. Sometimes it’s a solid idea, but more often it’s the very first stirrings of a concept along with a desire to get out there and really “make a difference.” It’s all too easy to forget those drives when you’re working day to day, especially if you don’t make time for creativity. That’s a thing I need to learn to do, still.

My ideas may not be grand, but I do have a wish-list of sorts of projects I’d like to accomplish or good ideas that need spreading. I’d like to widely tell the story of Grote Reber, the second ever radio astronomer and probably my favorite citizen scientist. A man who built a radio telescope in his spare time in an empty field and mapped the galaxy when the rest of the astronomy community didn’t think that the radio astronomy was even possible? Yeah, that’s a story to share. I’d like to help my friends at Dark Skies, Bright Kids finish writing up and disseminating their great ideas for hands-on astronomy lesson plans. There’s almost no end to the amazing things that can come out of graduate student enthusiasm, especially when you feed them.

On a much broader level, I want to share the story of science. Now, there are lots and lots of us that are working on that, but I’d love to share particularly how darn COOL radio astronomy is. The science is interesting, the Universe is bizarre, the techniques are clever, and the people who do the work are interesting in their own right. For a time, I did work in the field, but I’ve turned more towards education and outreach to the point where I don’t actually do research anymore. It’s been a weird transition for me, though it’s clearly what I enjoy. But I’ve been there, even if for a little bit, and I’d like to share that story and experience. Not that I’d never like to do research again; I still have things I want to observe and questions I’d like to see answered! But that’s taken a back seat to the communication of science as far as my priorities go.

I’m involved in several projects where I get to do that, but I need to flesh out the details. Sometimes it takes just jumping in and starting something. Other times, I need to hang back and do a bit of research first. Most of all, I want to be effective at what I do, and that is a sentiment shared across the science education and outreach community. We like evidence, including evidence that we’re teaching something, that someone is learning something, and that we’re making a difference. Assessments and testing get a bad rap (often for good reason) but evaluating your impact is an important skill, one I’m just beginning to grasp.

So that’s my story, figuring out how to get the most bang for my communication buck. Speaking of bucks, I need to figure out how to pay the bills while I do it. I know I’m in the right place because if I was independently wealthy somehow, I’d keep doing all these things.  I know I’m lucky, despite the anxiety and impostor syndrome that creep up once in a while.

Maybe you’re reading this and want to make some cool science communication happen with me? Let me know!

Audio: Alien Conspiracy Panel at CONvergence 2014

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing time at CONvergence, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Minneapolis, MN. It has also become the home con of a smaller, sort of embedded con, SkepchickCon. As an occasionally elapsed but trying really hard contributor for the Skepchick Network, I’m glad to come along and share my love of science and astronomy. I had no idea, however, that this year I’d be sharing myself on something like ELEVEN panels and several hands-on activities. Whee! Despite the full schedule, I really had a lot of fun, stimulating conversations, and some legitimately relaxing time with my friends from afar.

Many of the panels were recorded on audio or video or both, and Jason Thibeault (who is a lovely Canuck, IMO) just posted the audio of a very thoughtful and occasionally rollicking “Alien Conspiracies Panel” with himself, JD Horn, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch, and me.

Photo CC Robert Couse-Baker. Click for original.
Photo CC Robert Couse-Baker. Click for original.

This was by no means a “for” vs “against” debate on whether aliens have visited us and been probing around our sensitive areas. We’re all skeptical of the claims of alien visitation, and for very good reasons, though some of us are still hopeful that alien contact, even of the microbial kind, will be made in our lifetimes.

I have a history of having once been on the believer side, as I wrote about once before, and I also attended a UFO conference a few years ago with a fellow skeptic, just to see what the discussions were like. I bring up some of these experiences on the panel. What you won’t see on the recording, however, is my uncomfortable shifting in my seat whenever UFO-believers are referred to as “crazies” or something like that. A) That’s pretty darned ableist, as I’ve learned fairly recently, and B) it’s not a good idea to assume mental health issues based on even an extreme belief, though I acknowledge that it might be an important factor in abduction cases. Maybe I should have said something during the panel when that language made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t. I’m a work in progress, I guess.

In any case, I hope you enjoy listening to the panel as our audience certainly seemed to, and as I did being on the panel. I hope more recordings are already out there or on their way!

Elsewhere on the Interwebz for June 2013

I write stuff sometimes. It’s been scattered as of late, but with year one of my post-doc under my belt, I’m starting to get the hang of things. Or, so I tell myself. As I work harder to put more blog-writing and video-making out, I thought it would help, at least my own sanity, to collect it all here in one place once in a while.

So, if you are curious what I’ve been doing, here’s the round-up of my writing and Hangout-ing from the last month…



(In some cases the originals are uploaded to my channel, but the slightly polished versions are uploaded to CosmoQuest’s channel, so I link to those if possible)

Okay, back to writing…