Spitzer Profile: Linda Vu
Spitzer Science Writer
Posted January 25, 2007
|Linda Vu sitting on the High Dam located near Aswan, Egypt.
Contrary to what popular culture would lead you to believe, not everyone who works for NASA is a Star Trek-loving, card-carrying Mensa member with an affection for big glasses, pocket protectors, high-water pants, and all things Star Wars.
I've been writing online articles for NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope mission for a little more than a year now, and am not ashamed to admit that an unexpected television airing of Star Trek is usually all it takes to send me channel surfing for the latest Laguna Beach episode. (Of course, I've never actually voiced this controversial sentiment aloud to any one at work, or expressed it above a whisper while in the vicinity of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) campus, where the Spitzer Science Center is located.)
I graduated from a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles called Occidental College, where I majored in international relations, interned at the United Nations, and did everything I could to avoid all things math and science.
For as long as I can remember, I've harbored tentativeness toward math and science. I almost made it out of college just as indifferent to these subjects as when I started, until an introductory astronomy class that I took in my last semester to fulfill a graduation requirement reunited me with my long-lost love for the subject.
There was actually a time, before high school chemistry and physics broke my science spirit, when I begged my dad for a telescope. It was my 12th birthday and my teacher told me that I could see Jupiter from my backyard with a telescope. We had just finished a unit on our solar system, and I was completely fascinated by the idea that there were planets I could actually see from my backyard.
Then National Geographic published an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope called "Pillars of Creation." The caption said that this cosmic cloud was forming stars 6,500 light-years away in the Eagle Nebula. My teacher told the class that 6,500 light-years was too far away to see from our backyards even with a telescope, so I cut out the picture and taped it to my wall.
Although I didn't understand terms like "cosmological red shift" or "light-years," I was captivated by the idea that things were happening beyond Earth. Out in space, planets were thriving and stars were forming further away than our eyes could see.
Before chemistry forced me to count in "moles" and physics defined "torque," I loved astronomy because it showed me things that were so much bigger than school and my backyard. It made me question whether other Suns, Earths, or even life could exist.
Somewhere along the way, I felt I couldn't ask questions about how astronomers look for other Earths, solar systems, or galaxies without getting a complicated answer involving a deep understanding of physics or chemistry. This is when astronomy and I split. I believed the stereotypes, that this was a subject reserved for geniuses whose profound intellectual insights helped them find subtleties in Star Trek that I didn't see.
Luckily, astronomy and I weren't separated for long. My college "astronomy for jocks" course (a sure-fire "easy-A" science class for non-majors to fulfill the graduation requirement) showed me that I didn't necessarily need to solve physics equations to understand astronomy. Astronomy, like all sciences, is just observations of nature, and there are ways to explain complex scientific findings in a way that everyone can understand. Teachers and science journalists do this every day, and this is what I do as a public affairs writer at the Spitzer Science Center.