AAS 219 Twitter Review: Miscellaneous

by Jessica Lu on January 20, 2012

And for my last twitter review post, here are some miscellaneous quotes or paraphrases from several different talks that I found interesting, humorous, provocative, or inspiring.

Steven Weinberg‘s Talk on Big Science in Crises:

  • “In the 19th century, rich men found astronomy glamorous and put money into it.”
  • JWST’s history is somewhat reminiscent of the superconducting super collider.
  • Big science faces competition with many other real problems in society: education, transportation infrastructure, etc.
  • We must not get into a conflict between science and society, we will lose.
  • Question for Weinberg: Why DO we need to understand the laws of nature? Answer: Science has changed humanity’s mentality.
  • Big Science is similar to war. It pushes technology until good things come out. And you don’t have to kill anyone.

Robert Kirshner‘s Heineman Prize Lecture:

  • When Einstein set out to use general relativity to explain the “universe” it was really only the Milky Way.
  • Pie charts of the makeup of the universe are full of our most precious resource… ignorance.
  • We can strive to be rich, safe, and immortal; but what does it matter if we are bored. — on why pure research, including astronomy, should continue

Kathryn Johnston‘s Talk on Galaxy Formation: Star-by-Star: The View from the Milky Way:

  • Stars remember what gas forgets – the original kinematic structure and chemical abundances.
  • The Milky Way is not 1 galaxy. Formed from 1000 galaxies with different star formation histories, dark matter profiles.

NSF Town Hall

  • Advice for young astronomers: hard times won’t get better for awhile.
  • Expect 10-15% decrease in NSF grant programs in 2012… More competitive.

What were your favorite moments of AAS 219?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann Onymous January 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm

“Advice for young astronomers: hard times won’t get better for awhile.”

I wonder how the number of postdocs evolves since 2007. And more particularly what is the attrition rate (as in postdocs and recent PhD graduates leaving astronomy). If the situation does not improve quickly I do not see how astronomy could avoid a massive loss of brain power. I see people with 15-20 1st author papers, who are leaders of projects, who just cannot get a permanent position. That can only last so long before these people are lost for astronomy.

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2 E. Anonymous January 20, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Ann, I agree. There is clearly a bottleneck, and the current generation of students will be feeling the squeeze for a while. I wonder if it isn’t the younger end of the distribution that’s bowing out. How can a new PhD with two first-author papers (which everyone assured him was plenty) going to go up for post-doc jobs against those who got their PhD 5, 6 years ago? These people now aren’t being taken out of the system.

Science funding should not be a political football for this very simple reason. You cannot build and maintain a quality scientific workforce based on a fluctuating bottom line. Once people go they are gone, and one-time injections (ahem, stimulus) doesn’t really help, because all it does is make the current players a little better off for a while. You can’t grow new PhDs overnight (nor would you want to, knowing the money will be gone in a year or two anyway…).

Does the AAS publish a jobs outlook or any kind of report on jobs at different levels?

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3 Sarah January 23, 2012 at 7:58 am

Bob Benjamin’s talk on the structure of the Milky Way galaxy, and the history of that area of research, was fascinating. My favourite of the conference, though of course didn’t see everything.

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4 Shantanu January 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm

For those who didn’t attend AAS meeting, anyone know if these talks are online?
in the past AAS used to webcast some talks, but couldn’t find any talks from the latest AAS
meeting on the website.

Reply

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