Some people are cool.
Some people are handsome.
Some people are smart.
Some people are funny.
Some people are cousins of Ellie Ann Soderstrom.
And some people are all of those things rolled into one. I’d like you to meet THE SCIENTIST:
He’s here to enlighten us on very important matters involving science and intellect and elepharoos.
Put your hands together for JORDAN SMITH:
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I can remember spending countless hours building LEGO jets, model jets, reading jet books and doing generally jet-y things. One of the greatest Christmas/Birthday present combos I ever received (same day, for you folks keeping track at home) was Jane’s USAF Flight Simulator, and a SUPER SWEET joystick/throttle combo (something like this). Every other great Christmas present I got as a kid was either a LEGO set, or something that required assembly. I just loved to take things apart and put them back together.
If I’m interested in building a time machine out of my refrigerator, what science should I study?
Physics, with a minor in refrigerator assembly/repair. Specifically, start by reading A Brief History of Time by Hawking, study relativity for a bit, then round it off with some string theory/quantum mechanics. Protip: call Frigidaire or Kenmore and see if they have any scholarship options.
(Tardis–the grandson of my refrigerator time machine)
Seriously, though, a fun and fairly accessible read is The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. He describes String Theory (and why there may be ten or more dimensions) in a wonderfully uh… elegant… manner.
And if you’re not into the mechanics of time, as much as its feel and beauty, pick up Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. It’s so vivid and thought-provoking.
If I’m interested in proving the existence alien life forms, what type of science should I study?
No, really… it’s a major field of study. A friend of mine from undergraduate majored in Astrobiology with the intent to work for NASA. I’m not sure if he’s there now, but he had an internship with them during school, as well as a trip to the Air Force Academy’s observatory with our Physics professor.
Also, I’m pretty sure it’s required to have an extensive working knowledge of the Star Wars universe.
If I’m interested in combining a kangaroo with an elephant to make an elepharoo, what type of science should I study?
Well, you’d probably need a degree in Biology with a major emphasis on Genetics. And there’s a renowned researcher / publisher Whose works you’d probably benefit from studying: Theodor S. Geisel. Most folks called him Dr. Seuss.
I’d also look into structural engineering once you hit the later stages of experimentation… because the Elepharoo sounds like it might find a critical intersection between bouncy and massive.
If I’m interested in studying mulch piles and the dependence gnomes have on them, what type of science should I study?
First, you’d want to read up on the nature of the creatures themselves. Specifically their living and societal habits. (No, I’m not talking about gnome societies, but those exist, too, apparently).
Next, study fertilizer itself, and maybe some composting science, and see if any of the byproducts are conducive to a thriving gnome community.
Finally, and most importantly, try and find a gnome villiage that will accept you to live as one of them for a short time. Learn their ways. Only then will you discover true enlightenment: that physics (the basis of all other sciences) doesn’t actually exist. It’s all gnomes.
If I’m interested in creating a force-field that could contain a nuclear bomb, what type of science should I study?
Again, I think Star Wars knowledge is very important here, but you might also go study at University of Washington. I hear there is a group there who’s been working with plasma, which has some neat properties that might lead to some force-field-like applications in the future.
Another cool technology in the same family is Quantum Levitation, which, if nothing else, might cause your eyebrows to float upwards a bit.
Besides being smarter than everyone else in the room, what other qualities should scientists possess (speaking generally, of course)?
Heh, I guess that depends on the room. I’ve been to some conferences that make me want to quit altogether because of how much smarter everyone else was. I’m pretty safe here in my living room, though; my bonsai tree is pathetic in a debate. I win almost every time.
When you’re not trying to get smarter, try and gain humility. Scientific research has a way of showing you your flaws (see: Murphy’s Law, Occam’s Razor), so it’s good if you can take “you’re stupid” for an answer without any huge frustration.
Also, Einstein probably put it best when describing himself: “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.”
What does your job consist of?
I’m sorry, that’s top secret. Ha, jokes!
I am a commissioned Nuclear Medical Physicist in a US Air Force hospital, which sounds a lot more intimidating than it actually is. I’m mainly tasked with looking after PET and SPECT imaging machines, which take pictures of functional processes happening in the human body so doctors can use them to diagnose certain types of disease. I would absolutely love to spend an hour explaining how the process works, but you might lose 70% of your followership. So in lieu of that, I’ll just say, we inject radioactive stuff into patients, and watch where it goes with one of several types of fancy 3D cameras. I do quality assurance tests to make sure they create accurate, readable images, so we can help the patient quickly.
I also coordinate (and teach a bit in) a physics course for the hospital radiology residents.
Finally, I do some radiation safety work, mostly keeping track of patients’ and hospital workers’ radiation dose. For instance, today I calculated the dose that a pregnant patient’s 20-week-old bun-n-the-oven received from an X-ray procedure. (Don’t worry, it was negligible).
What do you love about your job?
I love being able to use science so directly to help people. If I’d gone into theory or research, I likely wouldn’t see the impact so directly as I do working in the hospital. Granted, I’m two steps removed from the patients themselves, but it’s wonderful to be in an environment striving to heal people.
What don’t you love?
The busywork, paperwork and bureaucracy that comes with the job. No doubt we’ll always have to deal with it in our society, but I feel like I get a double dose while working for the government.
And finally, the question I’ve been dying to ask: if Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Marie Curie got in a bar room brawl, who would win?
I’ve been thinking about this one, and I hope you don’t mind if I take some super-heroic liberties.
Copernicus is seemingly harmless, but can channel the sun to temporarily blind his opponent, leaving them defenseless against his Prussian martial arts.
Newton manipulates gravity in small pockets to suspend his enemies to walls, ceilings, and in mid-air. Then, unfortunately, he hurtles apples at them.
Darwin plays his special flute and calls an army of mockingbirds to fight in his stead. Results vary depending on geographic location, though. Beaks meant developed by some species for tearing are quite effective, while the digging-birds are just annoying.
Einstein employs his “theory” of relativity (which wasn’t as much discovered, as much as incubated, developed and set free). He slows time from his enemy’s perspective as if they’ve passed a black hole’s event horizon. By the time he releases them, they’ve spent an eternity locked in their own mind and fall to the ground shivering and insane.
What Marie Curie lacks in strength, speed and supernatural ability, she more than makes up for in cunning. She fights and loses many a battle knowing she’s won the war, because she spiked their Gatorade with an alpha-emitter. Alas, they won’t live out the week.
I’m stumped, who do you think would win?
I’m pretty sure my limitless Taiji sword skill I’ve been learning from a DVD will be of no use against any of those. You know what they say, “Black Holes Are Mightier Than The Sword.”
Jordan has a fun/music/geeky Tumblr called Super Collider. And his twitter feed is has more of the same coolness you’d expect from such a guy.
Any questions for Jordan about science or smartness or Star Wars or anything else starting with S? Or any other letter?