Sounds of space: Janna Levin kicks off celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Commonwealth Honors College – The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Renowned cosmologist speaks about major scientific discovery in her latest book

By Sara Abdelouahed, Collegian CorrespondentOctober 1, 2019

On Thursday, Sept. 26th, the Commonwealth Honors College began a year-long series of events celebrating its 20th anniversary at the University of Massachusetts. This preliminary event, the Williamson Lecture, featured world-renowned author and cosmologist Janna Levin.

The focus of Levins talk was her newest book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, which explores the discovery of gravitational waves produced by black holes. Her knowledge and connections to those involved in the discovery allowed her to bring the story of the 50-year endeavor to life.

Honors College Dean Gretchen Gerzina introduced Levin with a brief summary of her background and experience. Levin is well known in the astronomy community for her work in understanding black holes and the cosmology of extra dimensions. She previously presented the NOVA show Black Hole Apocalypse on PBS, the shows first female presenter in 35 years. Along with her newest release, Levin has now published three books.

According to Gerzina, she is the rock star of astrophysics.

Her presence in the scientific community is known even to college students, including freshman physics major Garrett Mann. Mann had previously seen Levin on a YouTube show with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Manns curiosity and desire to know how [blackholes] work drew him to the event to hear her speak in person.

Other students echoed his desire to learn more. Freshman biochemistry major Aurora OConnor came without prior knowledge of the subject matter.

I know nothing about black holes, OConnor said. Maybe I should learn something about them.

Levin highlighted the exciting ups and downs of the scientific breakthrough using metaphors, anecdotes, and humor, allowing listeners of all backgrounds to comprehend the significance of the feat.

When asked about her favorite aspect of talking to college students, Levin said that everyone was really engaged. Its so fun when people are that present and curious and energized.

Students were eager to ask questions after the discussion, quickly lining up for the opportunity to talk to Levin and have their copies of her book signed. Amherst Books sold Levins newest publication at the event.

Colby Pratt, a freshman astronomy major at the University, said that her personal interest drew her to the event. Not only did she want to better understand black holes, but she [wanted] to be able to share that with other people.

Levin shares a similar philosophy.

[Physics] is like a gift, it belongs to you, she explained. Its something you inherit as soon as you learn it and then its yours to teach to somebody else. She said that the ability to share learned information with others was something that [she] found just incredibly, overwhelmingly exciting.

The 20th Anniversary celebration of the Commonwealth Honors College continues on Oct. 1 with a lecture from Banu Subramaniam, titled A Scientific Renaissance: Gender, Race, and the Practice of Science.

Sara Abdelouahed can be reached at [emailprotected].

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Sounds of space: Janna Levin kicks off celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Commonwealth Honors College - The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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