“Planets Around Other Stars” — talk in Second Life this Friday at 8am PDT

Posted on July 31st, 2008 — permalink

I’ll be giving the latest in the “Dr. Knop Talks Astronomy” series of talks associated with MICA this Friday at 8am SLT (aka PDT). The talk will be at the Galaxy Dome in Spaceport Bravo. The topic is Planets Around Other Stars:

Until the last decade of the 20th Century, we knew of exactly one star system that had planets: our own. At the dawn of the 21st Century, we knew about a few handfuls of exoplanets, or planets around other stars. Today, we know about more than 200. In this talk, I’ll describe the history of exoplanet searches and discoveries, I’ll describe the methods that we have used to find planets, and I’ll give you an update about the current count and nature of exoplanets that are out there.

Remember that a basic Second Life account is free!

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Academia : do I miss it?

Posted on July 13th, 2008 — permalink

Ethan Siegel asked me a question in a comment on an earlier post: do I miss it?

It’s rapidly approaching a year since I began working for Linden Lab (Prospero Linden’s rez day is August 6, 2007), and it’s now been just about a year since I submitted my resignation letter to Vanderbilt, officially ending my career as a professor of Physics and Astronomy. It had been a long road; I’d been in grad school at Caltech from 1990-1996, a post-doc at LBNL with the Supernova Cosmology Project from 1996 to 2001, and a professor at Vanderbilt from September, 2001 to June, 2007. I had dedicated my life, years of schooling and work thereafter, to this career. Once, upon meeting the chair of the department of Harvey Mudd (my college) at an American Astronomical Society meeting, he described me as “one of Harvey Mudd’s successes”… for, as many post-docs will tell you, it’s very difficult to get that tenure-track faculty position. But, as I told people many times, even though “most” pre-tenure people who actually put themselves up for tenure end up getting it, pre-tenure is hardly a cake walk.

I left. I jumped ship entirely– and in this field, it may well make it impossible for me to go back. Because there are so many more people than positions, any college that is hiring will be able to hire truly excellent people who never left, who don’t have a gap in their resume. Now I’m working as a computer engineer, trying to help build and maintain the metaverse. Some have said to me (including a professor of astronomy from Caltech) that I may well be doing more for Astronomy than many in tenure track positions– for, after all, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin, each did more for Astronomy (even though they weren’t thinking about Astronomy when they did it) than the vast majority of lifelong astronomy teachers and researchers. Who knows.

But, back to the original question. Do I miss it? The answer is an emphatic yes, and an emphatic no. What else would you expect from me?



SL5B Science Panel, Today, 5PM PST

Posted on July 1st, 2008 — permalink

I’m going to be one of five panelists on the “SL5B Science Panel”. What is SL5B, you ask? Second Life’s Fifth Birthday! It was five years ago that Second Life started it’s open beta. Everybody talks about Second Life as being so “new” that it’s hard to believe that it’s been around that long.

Indeed, it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been a part of Linden Lab for approaching 20% of the time that Second Life has been live…

The panel will be at SL5B Linked (181, 190, 25).

Panelists on the SL5B panel are:

Ourania Fizgig (RL: Adrienne Gauthier) is an instructional technologist in the Astronomy Department at the University of Arizona. She brings ASTRO101 students into Second Life and is also managing the International Year of Astronomy 2009’s presence in world.

Troy McLuhan produces multimedia exhibitions and events in Second Life. His background in applied math and physics, and Purdue PhD in astrodynamics serve him well in his active role in the Science Center group as well as his space related initiatives. http://www.troymcconaghy.com.

Pema Pera is an astrophysicist and head of the program of interdisciplinary studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, USA, and involved with MICA, The Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics, a group of astrophysicists and others interested in astrophysics. He is also interested in building virtual communities, and in computational science as well as in broadly interdisciplinary studies. See his paper on http://arxiv.org/abs/0712.1655 (click on “pdf” for the full article).

Prospero Linden is Rob Knop in real life. Until year ago, he was a professional astronomer, first on the team that discovered the acceleration of the Universe’s expansion, and then an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University. Last year he joined the engineering team at Linden Lab. He gives monthly astronomy outreach talks (as his alt, Prospero Frobozz) in association with MICA, the Meta-Institute of Computational Astronomy. http://www.sonic.net/~rknop/blog.

Bjorlyn Loon (Lynn Cullens in RL) has been writing and communicating about science and technology for 30 years. She has worked in archaeology, carnivore studies, historic preservation and the history of science, but has a real passion for biology and conservation. In Second Life, Bjorlyn has directed the Communications Team for Burning Life, founded and manages the Science Friday group and sim for Ira Flatow, was a recent award winner with The Tech in SL, and now is the full time Director of Communications for Metanomics, the popular business and policy program on virtual worlds.