University of Texas at Austin

Friday, December 4, 2009

Principles of science

John Lacy

John Lacy

Scientists arrive at their careers in different ways. Some follow a childhood interest, others are inspired by a teacher or discover a passion in a class they took on a lark and others find they have a talent in a field they hadn’t considered.

Further Findings highlights the paths that some researchers at The University of Texas at Austin took to the laboratory, the library, the field—wherever they do their work.

John Lacy is an astronomy professor and researcher who uses infrared telescopes to learn about how stars and planets are formed.

Dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt and sturdy shoes, Lacy seems ready for a hike or to tinker with the telescopes he builds, an increasing rarity in astronomy.

He started out studying physics before shifting to astronomy. He said he always liked science because he found it easier than something like English or history.

“At least it is for me,” he said. “Maybe it’s because I find it much easier to understand things than to remember. So often, in physics especially, there aren’t that many facts to memorize. It’s more a matter of understanding the principles and then you can figure out the facts.

“It’s probably relevant that my father was an engineer and brought things home for us to play with,” Lacy said. “In fact I’m sure it was. I’ll bet that if my father had been a journalist or something like that I would have been better at English.”

He switched from physics to astronomy because it enabled him to work in a wider range of interests.

“That is a particularly nice thing about astronomy, that it is rather multi-disciplinary,” Lacy said. “You do have to know some chemistry or engineering, if you take my approach to it. Or there are people in my department who are thinking about whether there might be life on other planets and they need to understand some biology as well.”

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