As an aspiring paleontologist, Joshua Smith, Ph.D., desired nothing more as a child than to become a scientist.
Smith said that was all he wanted to do from when he was a child to when he was a senior in high school, but that in his last year, he had a change of heart.
“In my senior year, I took physics, I had an excellent high school teacher,” said Smith. “That year I also read a popular book that cemented my interest in physics. That book was A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. So black holes were really something that amazed me because of all the different paradoxes associated with them.”
Smith said one of the things about black holes that intrigued him the most was that a person’s head would be more attracted to the black hole than the rest of his or her body and that very shortly after, as Hawking put it, the body would undergo “spaghettification.”
Smith described the impact of basic research, the main element of the Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center, in trying to understand the big questions of the universe and how it works.
“The impact that our research can make on culture and society is difficult to foretell,” Smith said.
“But one of the things that I expect will happen is that black holes and neutron stars and these very strange astronomical objects will become more a part of the common persons’ understanding of what’s out there,” he added.
The potential impact of their research on society, Smith said, may not be for years to come; but in an effort to comprehend the mysteries of the universe, new technologies must be invented and older instruments have to be updated to take on the scope of the projects they are undergoing.
Smith said his team will have to build better high-energy lasers and other advanced optical sensors to detect radiation and other emissions from astronomical phenomena happening all the time, all over the universe.
In his time at Cal State Fullerton, Smith said he was impressed with the students and their ability to adapt and get excited to the field of gravitational-wave detection and observation.
The students at CSUF, Smith said, are a diverse group in terms of ethnicity and approach to science, something that the field of science he said is falling a bit short in. Smith said students have the advantage of collaborating together because different cultures bring different and fresh perspectives to science.
Smith said his goal for the newly-opened center is to make significant contributions to the science and that his students will play a part in that.
“The overall goals of the center are that we want our students and our faculty and our staff to be on the leading edge,” Smith said. “And we want to train the next generation of scientists.”
In addition, Smith said he hopes his students will graduate and go on into graduate school but in other professions as well, carrying the lifelong lessons learned by grappling with complicated topics in gravitation and astrophysics.
Lastly, Smith said, the greatest impact on society by the center is the students he and his team have the fortune of teaching and working with.
That opportunity, Smith said, is not only the greatest joy in learning about the universe, but teaching as well.
“For me, I think the proudest moments are yet to come,” Smith said. “But some of the best moments I’ve had while being at Fullerton was to see the success of my students; to see my students go out to our community meetings and giving presentations on our research… So that’s a great moment, and you start to be like parents who take more pride in what their children do than what they do,” he said.