Thursday, February 18, 2016

Intelligence, on a higher level

For unexplained reasons, I decided to make Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronomy writer Donald Goldsmith, my latest "leisure reading."  With my rate of understanding on a really good day hovering around fifty percent, I have mostly learned that there are some ridiculously smart people in this world.  Not at all surprisingly, a decent chunk of this brilliance finds itself in our own backyard.  In typical modest, understated, and under advertised fashion, Rochester's contribution to astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology is beyond comprehension (literally and figuratively.)  Here are just a few examples:

  • Optimax, based in Wayne County, specializes in small volume, highly complex optics manufacturing.  The company has participated in many NASA programs by providing lenses designed for position sensing, mapping landforms, and optical analysis.  Optimax products have been a part of Mercury Messenger, various Mars Rovers, and Pluto New Horizons.
  • A 2013 study in Nature's Scientific Reports attempted to identify the world's leading producers and consumers of knowledge in Physics.  As of 2009, Rochester ranked 18th (in the world!).
  • Adam Frank is co-founder of NPR's 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog.  He is an occasional contributor to The New York Times and has written two books, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate and About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang.  His research involves the development of advanced supercomputer tools to study the formation and death of stars.  Adam Frank happens to be a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester.
  • Until recently, Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity had one unverified prediction: the presence of gravitational waves.  As it turns out, about one billion years ago, two black holes collided, causing massive ripples in space-time which were detected on Earth...a few months ago?! But how did scientists even know what these gravitational waves would look like when they found them? This critical knowledge was provided by earlier mathematical and simulated predictions performed by none other than the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at RIT.  

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