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Thomas Oberst

2004 - 2005 CSIP Fellow

Research Interest:
Physics and Astronomy

I entered Cornell in fall of 2002 as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Physics, but through chance and good-fortune found my way over to the Astronomy Department, where I plan to stay and complete my dissertation research. My research involves the development of instrumentation for detecting infrared light in the star-forming regions of galaxies. Or, if you like, Observational Infrared Astronomy. By mapping galaxies in the infrared, we are aiming to answer such questions as “How do stars form?”, “What triggers star formation?”, In what environment are stars formed?”, and “How do stars change that environment?”. We spend most of our time working with our hands building, developing, and testing hardware, electronics, and instrumentation right here in the Space Sciences Building on Cornell’s campus. The culmination of that work comes once or twice a year when we travel with our instruments to the sites of major telescopes (most recently Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the South Pole) and look at galaxies. To accomplish our goals we regularly incorporate principles from a wide range of scientific fields, including: mechanics, optics, atomic physics, low temperature physics and cryogenics, vacuum technology, electronics, chemistry, atmospheric science, computer science, and of course astronomy.

My goal as a CSIP fellow is to show students that science can be enjoyable and inspirational. The first step is to get students to start asking questions about the world around them, such as “What is light?”, “How big are atoms?”, or “Where do magnetic fields come from?”. Once motivated, these questions can be explored by having the students conduct basic physics experiments in the classroom (depending on what equipment is available). Alternatively, in many cases deep physical questions can be probed using a technique developed by Albert Einstein called the thought experiment---a method of scientific inquiry that uses reasoning, logic, and intuition to answer new questions based on what we already know about the principles of nature. Thought experiments are especially useful when the objects of study can’t be readily brought into the classroom: for example, when questioning the processes that occur in stars and galaxies!










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