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Decode Recode at TED: Astrophysicist Erika Hamden says we solely perceive four% of the universe

Within the final episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara handed the microphone to govt producer Erica Anderson, who just lately attended the TED 2019 convention in Vancouver, Canada. Within the new podcast, you’ll hear 4 interviews with TED Fellows, rising innovators within the fields of science and expertise, who will current their work on the primary day of the convention.

Beneath, we’ve got shared a barely modified transcript of the third of those 4 interviews: Erica talks with the astrophysicist Erika Hamden, who has developed new telescopes and different applied sciences. remark of area. Within the quick time period, this expertise can assist Hamden and his friends higher perceive the galaxies we all know, however in the long term, his targets are extra formidable.

"We all know loads concerning the universe," she mentioned. "However for those who break it down, we have no idea something. We all know that four% of the universe is made up of normal materials, reminiscent of protons, electrons. The remainder of the fabric seems to be like darkish matter and black vitality, which is completely mysterious. "

Now you can hear the 4 interviews on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts Spotify Google Podcasts [19459107] Pocket Casts Lined or wherever you obtain your podcasts. Or, simply pay attention with the assistance of the built-in audio participant under.

Erica Anderson: Welcome to Recode Decode !

Erika Hamden: Thanks. I’m so comfortable to be right here.

So, in a short time, let's begin … Your journey is so cool. You left MIT earlier than you went to Harvard, even earlier than constructing a state-of-the-art expertise utilized in telescopes … So, give me a quick overview of that.

I went to MIT within the fall of 2001. And I used to be actually naive. I come from a household that loves, we did the whole lot collectively and the transition to the college was troublesome. I met these individuals who have been going into enterprise and I believed individuals have been going to be there as a result of they liked science.

And I do know these individuals have been there, however I didn’t discover them. So I left. I took slightly time to grasp what I actually needed to do. After which I reapplied to the college and I went to Harvard. And whereas I used to be there, I attempted as a lot as attainable to verify to do issues that made me comfortable on daily basis. It was not definitely worth the hassle, as a result of possibly at some point a closing purpose would make me comfortable.

So it was a troublesome alternative to go away the college as a result of I had a lot recognized that I used to be performing properly and cleverly. After which I used to be an abandonment of MIT. I needed to notice that it didn’t outline me. And what mattered was to take pleasure in my life and ensure I did issues as a result of I needed to do them.

Sure, I imply, it's an unbelievable story. I might not say that being a dropout is a nasty factor.

It was actually the best name.

Yeah, sure. As a result of you’ve got discovered your approach, which is so cool. And I need to discuss it. So let's begin. What concept did you current? What’s your massive concept you have been speaking about at TED this week?

So my massive concept is that if you wish to uncover a brand new factor concerning the universe, you need to have a look at the universe in a brand new approach. You can make extra observations with issues that exist already. And this work is absolutely vital to develop and categorize the weather we already know.

However if you wish to make a breakthrough, you need to discover out what's new and unusual in our universe, you need to be artistic. And many individuals don’t affiliate science and scientists with creativity. However it takes quite a lot of creativity to suppose, "Nicely, how can I see this factor in another way than anybody has ever seemed for on this approach earlier than?" And usually, I discover it very helpful. that, you need to invent one thing. As a result of astronomers actually know find out how to use all of the out there applied sciences.

We attempt to seize each photon so that folks all the time push again the bounds, however new applied sciences that often enable new discoveries. So, like LIGO, it took 40 years.

What’s the function of LIGO?

LIGO is the … I have no idea what the acronyms imply.

I'm superb It's good. Excessive degree.

That is primarily a gravitational wave detector. It's a completely completely different spectrum on which we will discover the universe. When two black holes merge, for instance, or two neutron stars merge, they bend the space-time a lot that it sends waves into the universe.

Understood. So, have a expertise that may detect that.

Beforehand, we couldn’t detect waves in space-time and now we will, and this entire new approach of seeing the universe is open. So, for my work on the detectors that I’ve helped develop, they’re very delicate in a variety of wavelengths the place we’ve got by no means had any delicate detectors.

The earlier finest detector was really photographic plates. The movie is excellent beneath UV, however you cannot ship a film in area. You’ll be able to, but it surely's actually troublesome. So the opposite detectors we used have been working for what they did, however the sensitivity was simply not nice. It's lower than 10%. And the detectors I helped develop offer you sensitivities. Those we mounted on the balloon telescope that I constructed are 60%. So it's an enchancment six occasions bigger and also you didn’t change anything on the telescope the place you get six occasions extra info.

I understood. I’ve it.

Inventing applied sciences, that's actually what we name the mission. Now you are able to do issues and touch upon issues that weren’t detectable earlier than.

Yeah. And I feel you're slightly modest as a result of I feel you helped to essentially invent this new expertise. I imply, it seems to be such as you helped invent it, however then, or invent it after which supervise groups to construct it someway. How was it? What’s the drawback you are attempting to resolve? If you mentioned, I feel it's fascinating to ask new questions concerning the galaxy. What’s the discovery you’re enthusiastic about … What was your inspiration for that?

So, for expertise, I'm a part of a very nice workforce primarily based on NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That is how the lady who really invented the bottom … It takes a fundamental course of referred to as delta area or tremendous community area and its title is Shouleh Nikzad . She has been working for a very long time at JPL. She invented this expertise and developed it for about 20 years. And so I got here and helped make it even higher, principally. However it's actually a workforce effort.

And the machines we use are so costly. There is no such thing as a likelihood that one individual can actually do it, as a result of you need to have a workforce to have sufficient individuals to do all that work. However the work I need to do … So we glance within the universe and you may see galaxies. Individuals are lazy, in order that they need to have a look at the simplest factor to observe.

So, for those who simply look, your eyes will naturally be interested in the shiny substance, the actually shiny stars, the really good galaxies. And that's the very first thing to discover, as a result of the whole lot is darkish within the universe. So you decide no less than for the brightest issues.

However for those who proceed to decrease the brightness, you get far more fascinating elements. So we all know that galaxies exist as a result of we will see them. And from the simulations, we expect that there are these enormous filaments that affect and bubbles that explode, by which the filaments come out and in of the galaxy.

This can be a dynamic setting across the galaxy of hydrogen and different gases that swirls and comes and goes. And among the hydrogen comes from the Large Bang. That is paramount, and the opposite merged gases appear like a chaotic setting across the galaxy.

And we have a look at the galaxies and we see that a few of them are these magnificent lovely, completely disordered spirals. They’d numerous mergers. There are others which might be simply excellent rings, like wacky issues within the universe. And for now, we will see them, however we can’t say, "Nicely, this galaxy seems to be like this for that motive." The rationale behind this isn’t clear.

So I feel to grasp why, for those who have a look at the setting across the galaxy and you may measure the quantity of hydrogen current and the opposite gases current, you’ll be able to say: The galaxy is a phenomenal spiral, creating many new stars because it has enormous hydrogen filaments that enter and gas the formation of stars. Whereas this different galaxy that’s only a purple drop has none of those filaments. As a substitute, it has a very scorching gasoline halo that may not fall into the galaxy, "due to the sophisticated physics that I cannot clarify right here.

However you’ll be able to say like this: "Okay, okay, this galaxy seems to be prefer it does due to the whole lot round it. And this different galaxy seems to be completely due to this completely completely different setting. That's what I need to do within the quick time period.

And in the long term, we don’t actually know … We all know loads concerning the universe. However for those who break it down, we have no idea something. We all know that four% of the universe consists of normal matter, reminiscent of protons, electrons. The remainder of the fabric seems to be like darkish matter and black vitality, which is completely mysterious.

However even that small proportion of issues we perceive, we have no idea the place they’re. Nicely, for those who rely the variety of galaxies we will see, the estimated mass for these galaxies, you add components reminiscent of planets and black holes that you may probably not see, you add up all that and it doesn’t match to not the quantity of mass we all know exists within the common materials. So, there’s this drawback the place we have no idea the place the whole lot is.

A part of the answer might be that it’s this very low and really low density hydrogen that’s outdoors the galaxy. So, it emits very very very weakly. However we merely couldn’t conduct a census as a result of our detectors weren’t delicate sufficient. That's one of many issues I need to do.

So you’re clearly extraordinarily obsessed with the way forward for area exploration. Truthfully, it's not one thing I've considered loads. Which is loopy. That's all you suppose, what are the secrets and techniques of galaxies that we have to perceive? What’s modernity … What’s the race for area right this moment?

For galaxies?


We can’t actually clarify how our galaxy got here right here. And I feel numerous issues that inspire astronomers and other people occupied with area can say, "Why are we right here? And the way did we get right here? "

Previous query.

Sure, and our galaxy is a reasonably boring galaxy. Our star is nice, I like our star, but it surely's a reasonably commonplace star. However we see all these different issues, these tremendous energetic galaxies. The one the place they detected the black gap final week. This galaxy is wild in comparison with our galaxy. Perhaps that's why we’re right here as a result of our galaxy could be very boring. It's higher for all times.

Oh, fascinating. So boring means safety.

Bored that's superb, sure. However I feel that's actually what motivates individuals: "How will we clarify the state of affairs we're in proper now?" We've made large progress in simply understanding how galaxies have advanced over time. We will look by means of the historical past of previous galaxies which might be actually far-off and we will see that they’re completely different.

And there’s a little bit of change over time within the variety of galaxies that create new stars and their dimension, and so forth. However we don’t but have an entire image to say, "Oh, begin with this little galaxy of infants, then give it 13 billion years and it’ll grow to be the Milky Means."

So that you need to create this picture. Subsequent query, how did carry out this?

So, there are lots of … It's like a multi-pronged effort. So, usually, once I really feel that this can be a drawback that I need to clear up, my technique is to "do all of it". I feel that growing a expertise is essential as a result of it’s the foundation on which you may make new observations. So I'm engaged on a sort of detector and I'm beginning to arrange my lab to check a brand new sort of detector that appears just like the one I'm engaged on however has even higher noise properties. It appears to me important to proceed to construct higher instruments.

Subsequent, we’re engaged on new concepts for telescope ideas and area telescopes and advocating that younger astronomers be the principle investigators of those future area telescopes. Proper now, I’m engaged on an area telescope proposal to NASA's Little Explorer Program.

This mission is due to this fact completely theoretical. We’re type of figuring out what the instrument is, what the spacecraft shall be. It's a really fascinating course of for me as a PI. And there are all these issues that I feel would really like somebody to inform me that about two or six months in the past about who to contact at NASA facilities or to contact an organization within the subject. 39; aerospace. And so I made a decision, "Nicely, it's boring, it ought to simply be like … This info ought to simply be on the market."

Thus all the nice options start: "This can be very annoying".

Boring. I really feel like Adam Sandler's character in The Marriage ceremony Singer when his fiancé will present up the following day and that she is going to say to herself "Oh, you're not a rock star". He says "It's an info I might have used yesterday." Simply need to write an article like "The best way to construct an area telescope" and listing the whole lot I've realized.

After which I made a decision, as an alternative, I'm going to make a workshop and convey individuals out and say, "Okay. You begin with a scientific query. What’s the factor you need to know concerning the universe, after which we’ll decide if an area mission is the best way to go? "

And I'm very excited concerning the NASA individuals I've talked to, and I'm working with a number of different individuals. Normally, I am going to conferences on area, astrophysics and future missions, and I’m the youngest individual within the room. And usually, I’m one of many few girls. And so they discuss issues which might be going to be constructed within the 2030s. And lots of of these in these rooms won’t be working within the 2030s.

Fascinating, sure.

I hope they'll all be alive. They’re beautiful individuals they usually excel of their work. There have to be individuals who come to take their place. In order that's one thing I hope I can do and no less than assist deliver individuals behind me. And ensure new individuals prepare, younger individuals, various individuals.

And I additionally suppose it’ll make science much more dynamic. When you’ve got extra individuals asking fascinating questions, you’ll get numerous thrilling outcomes.

Completely. That is one thing I wish to ask you earlier than we go to our final query, particularly, are there fashions of feminine habits?

Oh, sure. Nicely, Shouleh Nikzad, the lady I labored with at JPL, was such an inspiration to me. She is simply an lovable and great individual. And she or he has all the time supported my work. And all of the individuals I labored with, I had numerous male mentors they usually have been actually nice. So, I really feel that I had numerous private consideration and really attentive, which I feel is essential.

Wonderful. Superior. And I'm positive you're a job mannequin for individuals to come back.

I attempt to be.

Yeah, no, that's nice Nicely, giving a TED speak is certainly a great way to unfold that. In order that's the final query. What do you hope to perform with this concept, with these telescopes? What’s the massive image?

Once I was younger, I knew that there have been astronomers and astronauts, however I didn’t understand it could possibly be a job to construct the telescope. I knew individuals have been going to telescopes [work with] however in faculty I believed, "Oh, you are able to do it? It's superior. And I’ve all the time liked to construct and use my fingers. That's why I prefer to prepare dinner, since you do one factor And so I simply needed to increase the world a bit, possibly individuals will notice, for instance, "Oh, I might construct telescopes. "

The opposite factor I need to do is inform folks that it's good to attempt one thing and fail dramatically. I consider my expertise at MIT and my abandonment, the truth that I’ve so failed. And for an 18 yr previous, it was the tip of the world. However I'm right here, I all the time do precisely the job I need to do. And I realized a lot from this expertise.

All the weather I discussed in my discuss TED have been, as , those with the detectors. It took us years to discover a technique to correctly function the half we have been engaged on. And at every stage, we are saying, "Oh, it didn’t work. D & # 39; settlement. Let's attempt one thing else. After which it really works. However one thing else fails and the one technique to study is on this area between failures. And with the entire payload of the balloon, all our gear works. However we had this different failure that we had not deliberate.

You then despatched the telescope into orbit within the stratosphere.

Within the stratosphere. Sure.

And the balloon failed.

Yeah. So all our issues labored. The pointing system, made by our French collaborators. It was lovely. All the things labored and the balloon was punctured. I bear in mind pondering that I didn’t even know find out how to fear about that. Yeah. I really feel so, if you wish to do one thing artistic or simply one thing new on the earth, you need to take a danger.

And society is so afraid of danger. I imply, I perceive as a result of the implications of failure for many individuals are getting fired. They lose their properties. Individuals stay on the sting on a regular basis. So it's exhausting to say, "Nicely, do this loopy factor and fail, and so on." However I feel for those who discuss it extra, possibly the individuals who management and run an organization, let your workers fail. See what occurs, give them the chance. As a result of in actuality, they struggle, they need to do one thing new.

Fail within the service of doing one thing new and higher.

Yeah. And take an opportunity and discover a bit. And it's scary. And it usually occurred to me to say, "My God, I would really like another person to have completed in order that I do know what to do." The trail could be there and that isn’t the case. It's exhausting to observe your individual path.

However I think about additionally actually rewarding and in addition, as you mentioned, deeply artistic within the subject of science. Thanks very a lot, Erika for becoming a member of Recode Decode . It was a pleasure to have you ever right here.

I’m so comfortable to be right here.

Thanks and we’ll monitor the progress of your work with numerous intrigue. So thanks.

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