Astronomy at Swarthmore Collegebwillman | July 14, 2010
Beth Willman, here. Last Wednesday, I spent the day visiting Swarthmore College’s astronomers: David Cohen and Eric Jensen. We had a great time talking about our own research, comparing notes on student research and teaching, and discussing the possibility of increasing the cross-pollination between Swarthmore’s and Haverford’s astronomy programs. (side note: I learned that Professor Cohen also loves squids, although I professed neither my own interest in squids and other sea creatures nor that my cluster of computers has a sea creature naming scheme, with the lead computer being named Squid.)
Swarthmore has a great astronomy program that nicely complements our own. Whereas Haverford’s expertise is in galaxies and cosmology, Swarthmore’s expertise lies in stars and planets. This led us to discuss ways to take advantage of these strengths by coordinating when we teach classes on X topic and by encouraging students to take classes at the other campus. We even very briefly mentioned the possibility that “trading” faculty for a class here or there could be more successful than trading students. In the Fall, Cohen will be teaching what should be a great Interstellar Medium seminar that meets Wednesday afternoons for 2.5 hours. (side note number two: the interstellar medium is a lot more exciting and fascinating than its name may initially lead one to believe). I intend to advertise this to Haverford students. One tricky bit about encouraging students to take courses at both campuses in astronomy is that it would be particularly difficult for athletes to take an afternoon class at the other campus, because they couldn’t get back by 4 pm for practice.
A final cool thing I learned about is a nifty gadget called a “SunSpotter”(tm). I’d love to get a handful of these to use in our Astronomical Ideas and Introduction to Astrophysics I classes.