week 8_ the universe and life, by ilona chadwick


a star nursery

a star nursery

In class, we discussed the numerous efforts of humankind to explore and learn about space.  In particular, we focused on space travel, and the space race.  This makes me wonder about the limits of human curiosity.  Since ancient times, people have studied the world around them, the sky, the sun, and the stars.  Astronomy has made many discoveries over the world, about the structure of our own solar system, our galaxy, and the universe as a whole.  Physics has contributed greatly to these findings, as its theories of light and matter can be used to interpret observations.  The blurred line between the fields of study has lead to some scientists to simply call themselves astrophysicists.  For example, I have heard many times about astronomers studying the wavelengths and intensities of light coming from distant stars, and they can determine when a planet passes over the star, eclipsing its light to us, and when a star wobbles due to planets orbiting around it. This website explains some of the details of how planets can be detected by examining the wobbling of stars.


One thing I have always been rather curious about is the overall shape or structure of the universe.  But, when you think about it, can the universe even have a shape?  To observe the shape of the universe, you would have to look from a point outside of the universe, which by definition does not exist.  But then, is there only a certain area where galaxies and matter exist, within an infinite void?  I found this video, which visually simulates what the universe looks like at an extremely large scale (2.4 billion light years wide), which it claims is less than 1.5 percent of the actual size of the universe.  So, the creator of this model seems to believe that there is a defined size to all that exist.  But then, there’s that extra layer of complexity: it’s expanding.


Astronomy on such a massive scale can sometime be difficult to imagine.  This difficulty is probably justified, because, as this webpage explores, space is changed by time, and either can be bent, curved, or warped.  For example, what is going on in black holes?  How can matter just “disappear”?  Why is the universe expanding?  One thought is that perhaps the universe is expanding, and its entropy is increasing, because time is passing.  I’m no astrophysicist, so I couldn’t say exactly why space and time are so related, but it has been shown in many places that they must be.  Another consideration is where the higher dimensions and multiple realities fit into this.  If quantum physics is correct, an infinite number of realities exist.  So, even if the universe is not infinite, there are an infinite number of universes.


The question, then, is whether human curiosity will ever be satisfied.  If there are an infinite number of things to learn about, then it can’t be.  However, sometimes we can find generalizations, patterns, and formulas that explain a large number of things, without actually knowing the details about each one.  If we could do this on a literally universal level, then we might finally be able to answer questions such as whether life exists on other planets, and what “shape” the universe is.


by ilona chadwick



Final Project Abstract: “Human Night Vision”


Currently, we use night vision goggles to be able to see better in the dark.  However, these goggles are often large, heavy, and expensive, making them impractical.  An alternate solution to the poor night vision of humans is genetic modification.  The aim of this project is to research genes for eye formation in owls, and use these genes to improve how human eyes are formed.  Overall, the project should enable people to see in nearly any lighting conditions, and even see more accurately during the day.  This improved vision could have many practical applications, from military tactics to, if the changes became widespread, saving electricity as lighting at night becomes unnecessary. 

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