About

“You don’t use science to show that you’re right, you use science to become right.” -Randall of xkcd

In January of 2008, I began writing this blog, Starts With A Bang, both for myself and for all of you, because we all have something in common.

The Skies of Chile

Image credit: © Stéphane Guisard, "Los Cielos de Chile", via astrosurf.com.

The same planet, the same heavens, the same laws of nature and the same Universe are something that we all have in common. And all of us, no matter how intrinsically smart, talented, or brilliant our instincts are, come into this world knowing absolutely nothing about it.

But that’s the beginning. In our own, individual ways, even though each one of us takes a unique path, we all embark upon the same journey.

Play in the dirk

Image credit: iStockphoto/Jennifer Surrena-MacDonald.

It’s the journey to understand the world around us. Individually, our passions may differ as to what aspects of the world we find most interesting. We all have our own preferences for what we want to learn most, what skills we want to develop, and what we want to accomplish.

But understanding what this world is, how it works, how we got here, and how we make sense of it all? That is something for all of us.

Atoms to Earth

Image credit: Gary S. Gaulin.

So, how do we figure it out? We look at what we already know (or what we think we know), we look at whatever thing it is that we’d like to know, and we come up with ways to test it. Sometimes that means getting your hands dirty and doing a number of different experiments, sometimes it means gathering a whole bunch of data and observations from previous or natural tests, sometimes it means creating incredibly complex models and simulations, and it often means questioning and challenging your initial assumptions.

Practically all of the time, there are mistakes, difficulties, re-tests, and do-overs that need to happen before we figure it out. The “how” of how this all works involves an incredible amount of hard, careful, and often tedious work.

But then, you get to the payoff.

The payoff is that knowledge, that understanding, that leap forward you take when you’ve suddenly made better sense of the world than you did before. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.  As Carl Sagan once said,

When you make the finding yourself – even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it.

That’s the power of science; that’s the passion that I’ve devoted my professional life to.

Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689

Image credit: NASA, ESA, A. Fruchter and the ERO Team (STScI, ST-ECF).

Not just the understanding of it, mind you. Yes, I’m a theoretical astrophysicist — a cosmologist, in particular — with an extensive background in nuclear, particle, computational, gravitational, and astrophysics; there’s no mistaking that. But this Universe, and how it works, it isn’t a story that’s only for me; this story belongs to all of us.

And that’s what this blog is about.

A selection of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Image credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team.

We are just one species, inhabiting one lonely planet, in orbit around one solitary star, spinning around our one, isolated galaxy, hurtling through space in our vast, possibly infinite Universe, and yet we can understand it. How we got here, what makes it all up, what we know and how we know it: it’s all part of what we’re after. My goal, each time I write for you, is to take you on a journey into a place where you’ll wind up having gained something from spending a little time with me.

How do I try to get us there?

Sean Bagshaw Lunar Eclipse

Image credit: Sean Bagshaw of http://www.outdoorexposurephoto.com/.

I do my best to start out in a place that’s comfortable and familiar to you, where you have some experience and understanding already. One small step at a time, we move farther and farther into new, more challenging territory, whether that takes us down to subatomic particles, up to the edge of a black hole, or out into the richest clusters of galaxies in the Universe.

Virgo Cluster of Galaxies

Image credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo of http://deepskycolors.com/.

By the end of each post that I write, I hope I’ve given you some insight into something new, and helped to increase your awareness and appreciation for the Universe around us and within us. I hope you feel good about the time you’ve spent here, and that you feel it was time and energy well-spent.

Particle tracks in a bubble chamber

Image credit: CERN Photo.

Well over a thousand articles and 20,000 comments have come and gone, and there always continues to be more and more to understand. From those of you who’ve been on this journey with me since the very beginning to those of you just hopping on board now and everyone in between, it’s my great hope that it’s been a great journey for you so far, and that you’ll continue to join me on it well into the future.

Bullet Cluster

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/M.Markevitch et al.; Lensing: NASA/STScI, ESO WFI, Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI, Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.

We never stop learning, and we never stop uncovering more things to figure out. The great joy I get out of this comes simply from sharing the small part I know of this story with you.

That’s what this blog is all about. For me, it’s wonderful, and I hope it both is and continues to be for you, too. Here’s to all of us as we continue on our journey.

Comments

  1. #1 Tõnu Eevere
    Estonia
    March 1, 2013

    Sellises Üldisuses on raske orienteeruda. Pealegi, ei taha ju kuidagi nõustuda – selle “laienemisega”, Kõva Paugu raames.
    Statsionaarses Ruumis võime ehk vaadelda Meie liikumist (kartmata süüdistusi antropomorfismis?!) valguse kiiruse c ilmingutena nn. Hubble`i punanihet; valguse kiirust ületava (eel)signaali kiiruse C ilminguina aga (niikui Tšerenkovi – Tamme kiirgus) – jääkkkiirgust.
    Kas me liigume, pole küsimus – küsimuseks on: kas me liigume ikka valguse kiirusega c VÕRRELDAVALT (et saaksime arvutada selle punanihke suuruse järgi – Meie kiirust Absoluutses Ruumis?

  2. #2 Alysia
    London
    August 28, 2013

    Dear Ethan,

    I hope you’re well! I’m getting in touch from the Institute of Art and Ideas (in the UK), as we’ve just released a new debate online which I thought might be of interest to readers of your blog. ‘Memory and Forgetting’ investigates forgetfulness and the self alongside the role of memory in modern consciousness, and features Neurobiologist Steven Rose, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Sue Bailey and biographer Hermione Lee. It’s a really interesting debate – I hope you enjoy it! You can find a link here, along with an embed code in case you want to use it at all on your site.

    http://iai.tv/video/memory-and-forgetting

    Many thanks!

    Best wishes,
    Alysia Judge
    TVF Digital

  3. #3 Jim Olson
    August 28, 2013

    Dear Ethan,

    Thank you for writing and maintaining your blog. As a pediatric oncologist and a P.I., I am personally grateful for the time and energy that you invest towards building a science community. Because science is a forever developing field, it is important to have blogs, such as yours, to engage the community with new research and findings.

    My research team invented Tumor Paint, which is a scorpion-derived molecular imaging agent that causes cancer cells to “light up” so that surgeons can find cancer more easily – and distinguish it from normal tissue. The pre-clinical studies of Tumor Paint on cancer were stunning – even a couple hundred cancer cells traveling from one lymph node to the next were identified! As Tumor Paint moves into clinical trials, my team is now focusing on additional therapeutics, built on the foundation of Tumor Paint – I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to share information about this work though your blog.

    After two decades of caring for children with cancer, I recently gave a talk at TEDxSeattle, in which I opened my heart to share how some of these individual children changed my life and drove incredible innovation through research. I am writing to see if you would be willing to share the link to this talk with your readers.

    To raise awareness about the importance of discovering and developing drugs for cancer patients, our goal is to have 20,000 people view the TEDx talk this month – I hope you will help us achieve this important goal. The Washington Research Foundation has generously offered to donate $10 to support our work for each time the talk is viewed, up to $50,000.

    Please encourage your readers to go to projectviolet.org to watch the TEDx talk, where they can help spread the word about how we all work together to promote healthy and happy lives for cancer patients.

    Thank you,

    Jim

    p.s., In case it helps, here is a blurb prepared by our team that might help encourage people to watch the talk…

    Watch Dr. Jim Olson’s TEDxSeattle talk and WRF will donate up to $50,000 toward cancer drug discovery
    Dr. Jim Olson is an internationally recognized thought leader in cancer drug discovery whose team is creating an entirely new drug discovery platform that specifically focuses on cancers that are currently incurable with traditional drug candidates. To achieve his vision, he relies on nature-inspired solutions and an incredible team of creative scientists. His team’s track record of innovation includes the invention of Tumor Paint, a scorpion toxin based drug that makes cancer cells light up so that surgeons can distinguish cancer from normal tissue while operating. They also invented a way to test multiple different chemotherapy drugs in a patient’s tumor to prioritize the best drugs or combinations and eliminate ineffective drugs. Dr. Olson cares for children with cancer, leads an innovative lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and founded two biotechnology companies to support his vision — Blaze Bioscience and Presage Biosciences. To learn how Dr. Olson was inspired by individual patients that he cared for, and how this inspiration led to a whole new platform of drug candidates that come from violets, sunflowers, spiders and scorpions, we encourage you to watch his recent TEDxSeattle talk. To encourage those who care about cancer patients to spread the word, the Washington Research Foundation (WRF) has offered to donate up to $50,000 ($10 for each view). To watch the talk, please go to projectviolet.org.

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    Jim Olson, MD, PhD
    Member, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
    Attending Physician, Seattle Children’s Hospital
    Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington

    FHCRC
    1100 Fairview Ave. N., Box D4-100
    Seattle, WA 98109

    Please visit projectviolet.org