Dr. Goldberg's User's Guide to the Universe
By Maia Livengood
November 19, 2009 — If the stereotype for an astrophysics professor is an elderly, bumbling, somewhat eccentric man with wild gray hair, Dr. David Goldberg certainly doesn’t fit it. He’s young, energetic, and articulate about a subject that has acquired the unfair stigma of being tedious and dull. Dr. Goldberg laments the development of the “eat your vegetables” type of physics instruction, in which students are taught cut-and-dry formulas instead of striving to answer conceptual, interesting metaphysical questions. And really, that’s the concept behind his soon-to-be-released book, A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty. The work, due out in March, aims to dismantle the stigma by suggesting that physics should be studied because it’s fun, not because it’s necessary. Furthermore, it delivers answers to serious scientific inquiries through comedy and conversation. Co-authored by Drexel graduate Jeff Blomquist, A User’s Guide is intended to be an easy and enjoyable read for a wide audience.
Having been inclined towards mathematics from an early age, and inspired in adolescence by Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Dr. Goldberg pursued dual undergraduate degrees in astronomy and physics at Boston University. At BU, he participated in several research initiatives, even those that were unrelated to his specific area of study. He reflects that although these projects didn’t always have a direct correlation to cosmology, his primary interest, they were still vitally important to his academic development.
It was towards the end of his undergraduate career that Dr. Goldberg sought out a new faculty member, Dr. Tereasa Brainerd, who is a noted academic in the cosmology field. Brainerd served as Dr. Goldberg’s mentor, and by working closely with faculty like Dr. Brainerd during his undergraduate and graduate years, Dr. Goldberg learned the importance of student academic development outside of the classroom.
In fact, here at CoAS he stresses student research as an imperative part of the educational process. Citing Drexel’s highly successful STAR program*, Dr. Goldberg points out that it not only inspires young students with the rare opportunity to conduct advanced-level research, but it also offers them experience with processes not covered in the classroom setting, such as the submission process for scientific journals. The CoAS Physics Department is fortunate enough to have a significantly high student-to-faculty ratio, enabling most students to become involved in research projects at some point in their academic career. Dr. Goldberg applies to numerous grants annually with the direct intent to hire student researchers as Co-ops for his projects.
Jeff Blomquist was one of the students to whom Dr. Goldberg reached out. As a Drexel master’s student, Blomquist was selected by Dr. Goldberg to become Head Teacher’s Assistant for Physics 101 courses. He reflects, “Working with Dr. Goldberg was one of the most challenging experiences of my graduate school career. Most importantly, I got to ask a lot of questions, which meant that even though I was reviewing [undergraduate] lessons, I still learned a lot.”
Dr. Goldberg allowed Blomquist to structure recitations and prepare the homework solutions--which allowed for an abundance of doodles and pictures. Blomquist’s amusing doodles that appeared on the students’ study guides inspired many of the cartoon strips that can be found in A User’s Guide.
In regards to Dr. Goldberg’s guidance, Blomquist says “Dr. Goldberg walked with me during a time when I wasn't sure where my life was headed, and he gave me career (and occasionally, personal) [advice] when I needed it. Dr. Goldberg is a highly-motivated colleague and an excellent friend.” And after a successful career in academia, Blomquist is currently working as a manufacturing engineer at Boeing.
Dr. Goldberg’s most recent work is concentrated in the area of gravitational lensing, examining light refractions to “map” the composition of the universe, specifically, dark matter that is otherwise undetectable. He integrates a variety of fields within physics to reinforce his studies in particle cosmology; currently, string theory has piqued his interest. While not directly related, gravitational lensing serves to inform models of cosmology.
Cross-discipline study, like cross-discipline research, is important for having a broader understanding of a concentrated subject, says Dr. Goldberg. Regardless of future concentrations or career intentions, he encourages students to become involved in the department in any respect, [explaining that] it’s as much about learning and understanding the processes as it is about the subject matter.
*For more information regarding the STAR program, please visit http://www.drexel.edu/honors/special/star or contact Dr. Suzanne Rocheleau, Associate Dean for Special Projects, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maia Livingood '12 is a Business Administration major with concentrations in Finance and Economics, as well as an English minor. Working for the College of Arts and Sciences, she has developed a strong interest in publication management and hopes to build upon the experience throughout her professional career.