Science Person: May 2003
Johns Hopkins University
May 10, 2003, 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
May's Science Person of the Month is Luciana Bianchi, Astrophysicist, at the Johns Hopkins University.
Here is Luciana's job description:
I am an Astrophysicist. I do research, astronomical observations, direct PhD students, and develop new space science instrumentation.
Here are Luciana's answers to our questions:
1. When did you become interested in your area of work?
- When did you become interested in your area of work?
- Why did you become interested in your area of work? Did a teacher, parent, or other adult inspire you?
- How long have you been doing your job?
- What other jobs have you had in the past?
- What did you have to study to get into this career and for how long?
- Do you continue to update your education through classes, conferences, etc.?
- Is your career just like you thought it would be? Is it fun?
- What’s the worst part of your job?
- What’s the best part of your job?
- What is the one best memory you have during your career?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- Favorite things?
- What is your message to a person considering a career in science, math, or technology?
End of High school.
| Back to top |2. Why did you become interested in your area of work? Did a teacher, parent, or other adult inspire you?
Some good teachers were definitely an inspiration, then mostly books on the subject.
| Back to top |3. How long have you been doing your job?
Since earning my PhD at the University of Padua (Italy). I moved to the Johns Hopkins University in 1996.
| Back to top |4. What other jobs have you had in the past?
I held many positions, in different countries (Italy, Spain, International (European) center, and recently USA), but always as an astrophysicist.
| Back to top |5. What did you have to study to get into this career and for how long?
PhD in Astrophysics. Before you get to that, lots of math, and physics.
| Back to top |6. Do you continue to update your education through classes, conferences, etc.?
International conferences and symposia are a vital part of progress in science: a scientist or team cannot work in isolation. We are in constant contact with others around the world who are working on the same particular problem, and exchange theories, techniques, data and opinions. As for classes, I’m giving master classes to young scientists in special occasions (workshops).
| Back to top |7. Is your career just like you thought it would be? Is it fun?
It’s fun in the same way it’s fun to climb a steep mountain: working hard towards your goal gives a deep sense of satisfaction - more than fun! And there are “fun” moments too: for instance, my job takes me all around the world, I’ve been observing with telescopes on the Andes, the Alps, Sierra Guadarrama, Canary Islands, I may be giving a lecture in Mexico or attending a symposium in Copenhagen… and so on. My colleagues, and my PhD students, and my friends, are from many different countries.
| Back to top |8. What’s the worst part of your job?
Management, bureaucracy and everything which subtracts time from actually doing scientific research.
| Back to top |9. What’s the best part of your job?
When I get new data at a telescope, analyze them and discover something new and interesting. Also, dealing with students and young people is always fun.
| Back to top |10. What is the one best memory you have during your career?
It’s hard to choose! Every time I finish and publish a new work seems a best moment. But I’ll tell an anecdote instead. My first day on my first job (a job with the European Space Agency), in my first foreign Country, with an international team (all senior to me by many years), a lot of responsibility and an overwhelming amount of things to learn quickly… Lunch time. I go to the cafeteria and set down my food tray on an empty spot at a crowded table. I didn’t know anybody yet and nobody knew me. A senior spacecraft engineer sitting across looks up at me and says: “welcome home” (of course in yet another language). What? My home was thousands of miles away ! Yet, I felt “at home” ever since, every day (and night! sometimes we worked non-stop for 24hrs without sleep in emergency situations) through happy work, great successes as well as emergencies, and fun time.
Another good memory: when Russian colleagues “decorated” me with a pin from a project I never worked on – because the Russian project I was collaborating with was too uncertain yet to have a pin or even a logo! It meant a lot to me, as it meant a lot to them, it was a symbol of reciprocal appreciation. International recognitions, awards, publications are happy events for sure, but working with great people can produce the most pleasant memories.
| Back to top |11. What do you like to do in your free time?
Concerts, opera, outdoors, reading, travel.
| Back to top |12. Favorite things?
- Color? Blue
- Number between 1 and 100? 11
- Book? “Un Italiano in America”
- Movie? I.Q.
- Song? Nessun Dorma
- Food? Risotto (rice dish typical of Venice) and MD blue crabs!
- Sport to play or watch?Biking
- Place to visit? Home (Italy) and Spain, but also Arizona, Colorado, … most of the planet.
- Science moment? When Galileo discovered that the Milky Way was a myriad of stars and not “milk” or a nebulous celestial object, or Einstein’s discovery of the photoelectric effect. In my lifetime? Space exploration.
| Back to top |13. What is your message to a person considering a career in science, math, or technology?
The very same message as to a person considering a career as a musician, or writer, or artist, etc: what YOU really like, is probably the best choice for you: because only if you have a great passion for what you do, will you find the strength to work all it takes to succeed, and to start over again with renewed energy at every failure and hurdle, and working hard will be fun. If you undertake a creative (and, so to speak, out-of-the-routine) career, it’s going to be both very hard (guaranteed) and very rewarding (hopefully). To discover something previously unknown, to explain something hitherto not understood, to do something new or better than others did, every day, to “play as a soloist”, doesn’t come easy. It is very competitive too. But when you do it well and put your heart into it, whatever you do is exciting – and this part of the excitement is guaranteed. Success may depend on a lot of circumstances, but at least the fun of working for your dream – that’s yours only!
A tip to students (try this experiment): when you study something in school, say- your current math unit, do not study it “to pass the test” or “because you have to” but “because you really love it” – how can you really love it? Don’t stop at the recipe that the book gives you, try to understand the concept at a deeper level – not by reading a thicker book or making it more complicated, but by digesting it like a product of your own mind, until it is absolutely crystal clear, by repeating it to yourself and figuring it out in several ways. At this point, you may have discovered beauty even in a math theorem. As a minimum, you may feel that studying is much less of a burden and is much easier.
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Questions, comments? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.