When I decided to switch over to science blogs, I told Eric that he had to go with me. We’ve talked for years about doing a project together, but have always worried that a book or something would kill our extremely happy marriage, that we’d end up fighting over grammar (he’s much more of a stickler on this than I am, which is sort of strange given our respective backgrounds). But blog posts, well, we could presumably do this together with minimal risk of homicide. So next week (this week is grading hell week for the honey) we’ll start our “Apocalyptica and the Astrophysicst” series with an exploration of how ethics and science work together when teaching environmental physics.
The name of our series, by the way, is derived from a curious observation I made after reading a lot of trashy science fiction novels involving the end of the world through various mechanisms. The observation is this – if the butler always did it in crime novels, the astrophysicist always saves the world in the end in sci fi novels. This seems to be true whether the disaster is space related or not. Thus, my apocalyptic streak informs me that it is always wise to keep an astrophysicist at hand – so I married one. I’d advise everyone to add an astrophysicist to their preps.
While you wait for our first team missive, I wanted to introduce my occasional blogging partner, hedge against zombie attacks and partner in crime of 13 years. Eric is a professor of physics at SUNY Albany. He has a BS from MIT in Physics and an MS and Ph.d from Harvard in Astrophysics, specializing in Gamma Ray Bursts. Before he took his present job he worked for the Smithsonian Institute collaborating with NASA on the Educational Forum in the Structure and Evolution of the Universe. (Translation for non-scientists – not only is he extremely hot, but he’s really smart.)
(Proof of extreme hotness provided here, with Eli, my oldest)
Eric’s first love isn’t bench science, it is teaching, which is what brings him to SUNY. He’s non-tenured by intent – most of the tenured jobs that focus on science education, his passion, are at small private universities with affluent student bodies. Eric wants to work with larger groups, and more first generation college students. We sometimes miss the money and job security that tenure might have brought, but he’s incredibly happy in his job.
Eric has taught general physics and other classes, but generally he teaches two classes at SUNY Albany. The first is one of the University’s largest general ed classes – a history of space exploration and space science. He teaches multiple sections and has about 600 students a semester – fully one in five SUNY students comes through his class in the course of any four year period.
When I tell people about Eric’s space class, most professors think it sounds horrible – huge gen ed requirements are part of many faculty nightmares, but it is here that you manage to see how terrific a teacher my husband is. He adores this class – and his students like it as well. Not only does the class fill nearly every semester, but his extra-curricular observing sessions, which are entirely voluntary are often filled to capacity. Students even come and perform musically while a hundred undergrads do astronomical observations in the freezing cold.
Recently Phil, Eric’s extraordinary TA, sidekick and doctoral student (proof of what a good grad student really can be, and why I wasn’t a good grad student) ran one of these at 3 in the morning, to catch the peak of the Leonid meteor showers and had 100 undergrads show. I must note that this only credits Eric indirectly, with inspiring the students to attend, since Eric was asleep at the time. But Phil is like Robin to Eric’s Batman, so it counts (and I’m wondering now if I could pay Phil to drive Eric crazy by following him around and saying things like “Holy Thermodynamics, Eric!)
The astrophysicist also teaches environmental physics, and it is here that our interests overlap – Eric teaches his students the way to figure what kind of future we face – how to evaluate carbon emissions and fossil fuel reserves. But he’s found that he has to offer them more than “here’s how you do the math to show that we are screwed” – so the class explores the related ethical issue, how to explain these ideas and what the possibilities for change are.
When he’s not teaching at SUNY, Eric runs the farm with me. This is something of a stretch for a guy who was raised in apartments in New Jersey, but he’s gone from thinking this was a completely insane idea to being kind of used to it now, and realizing that it is always a bad idea to get in the way of his crazy wife when she has ideas. It helps that Eric is not into change. Once we moved here, that was all the change he needed for a whole lifetime, and he was now done, so he’s going to like it here no matter what, because anything else would be different, and thus, bad.
(Farmer Eric operating his scythe)
Besides his many agricultural talents (reminds me of Tom Lehrer”..where he majored in husbandry until they caught him at it”), he’s a fine writer. I am a little on the wordy side (I can hear the gasps of shock from my readers now – Sharon, wordy?!?). Eric has a real gift for getting to the point concisely and clearly. I’m looking forward to having his prose kick my prose’s butt – plus the inevitable arguments and making up .
Whenever someone asks me how I do it all, I always say two things. First, I don’t – my life probably doesn’t look as good as people think it does. Second, that we get along as well as we do is totally due to the Astrophysicist, who is not only an extremely fine thinker, but a seriously committed guy who does his full 50% of the work around here. Together we clean, we cook, we homeschool, we farm, and now we write – and after spending a lot of time 24/7 together, the best thing about my marriage that I can say is this – we’ve never had enough time together. It is one heck of a happy marriage, plus, when the aliens come, I’ve got me an astrophysicist, and a mighty fine one, too.