In January, “Rising Star Month,” our eyes look around us and recognize up-and-comers, those shining lights who show much promise, individuals of great potential, ascending on the horizon. One such outstanding individual is Dr. Scott Gaudi, assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at the Ohio State University. As the leader of a team of international astronomers, Gaudi received worldwide media attention in discovering a solar system similar to our own. He was also awarded the Helen B. Warner Prize for “significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy” by the American Astronomical Society. In addition, he has been named one of the “10 Rising Stars of Astronomy” by Astronomy Magazine and “one of the 20 scientists to watch in the next 20 years” by DISCOVER magazine. Ascending from “a rural American kid to professional astronomer,” Dr. Gaudi inspires everyone he meets to reach for the stars. Since January is Rising Star Month, here is the first of a two-part interview with Dr. Scott Gaudi.
When and how did you become involved in Astronomy? Did you know at some point that you were going to be a scientist and specifically an astronomer?
I first become interested in science and in particular astronomy in the 2nd grade. My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Gregory, gave our class the homework assignment to look up the name of the (then) nine planets, and memorize their names in order of distance from the Sun. My parents had a book called “Our Universe,” which they got with a subscription with National Geographic. I went to look up the name of the nine planets, and ended up reading the entire book cover-to-cover. I was hooked and decided then and there that I wanted to be an astronomer.
January is also Mentoring Month. Who were some of the mentors you encountered along the way and in what ways did they impact your life? Are you currently mentoring anyone?
There have been a number of people who have served as important mentors in my life. Perhaps the most important was my PhD thesis advisor, Andy Gould. Not only did he teach me almost everything I know about being a research astronomer, but he also instilled in me a strong sense of the importance of scientific morality when being a research astronomer.
Mentoring is an important part of being a research astronomer. I have served as an advisor for a number of undergraduate and graduate students, and I am currently the PhD advisor for one graduate student at the Ohio State University.
In your research with the Milky Way Galaxies and other areas, did you encounter anything that surprised you?
One of the things I love about astronomy is the process of discovery. Almost without exception, whenever astronomers discover something new, it is completely unexpected. Nature, it seems, is far more imaginative than we are. The most surprising thing to me is the diversity of planetary systems we find around other stars. Whatever rock we turn over, we seem to find planets.
What would you consider your most significant accomplishment thus far?
To be honest, I am most proud of being a kind and generous person. In terms of my research accomplishments, the discovery of a Jupiter/Saturn analog is my most significant achievement. In terms of their masses and separations from their parent star, these two planets look very similar to a ‘scaled’ version of our own Jupiter and Saturn. This system could host additional planets like terrestrial planets or Uranus/Neptune like planets, but we wouldn’t have been sensitive to them. So, this could be a solar system analog.
What is the most interesting or unusual project you’ve worked on?
The project I am currently working on, the Microlensing Follow-Up Network, is by far the most interesting and unusual project. We are in international collaboration of professional and amateur astronomers who search for planets using the method of gravitational microlensing. This project is frenetic and chaotic, since we analyze our data real-time and must react to these data on very short (hourly) timescales. This makes the process very stressful but very exciting. Also, working with amateurs is very exciting, because they are very excited by and dedicated to science.
In the video below from the National Science Foundation Scott Gaudi comments on some recent discoveries in astronomy:
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