This week we are thrilled to welcome astrophysicist Paul Sutter to Real Scientists. Paul splits his time between Trieste, Italy and the Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics at Ohio State University. His research focuses on many diverse topics, from the emptiest regions of the universe, to the earliest moments of the Big Bang, to the data analysis challenges of detecting the formation of the first stars. Paul is also a passionate science communicator, hosting the”Ask a Spaceman!” and “Realspace” podcasts and “Space in Your Face” with Wayne Schlingman on YouTube. We were keen to find out more about Paul, so he kindly answered our interview questions below.
Why/How did you end up in science?
I grew up reading books about space and about dinosaurs (and sometimes about dinosaurs from space), but I never considered “scientist” as a real career, so I went into computing. Two years into college I was bored out of my skull. I took an astronomy elective and it rekindled my old passions. Within a week I switched majors to Physics and never looked back!
Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?
I picked astrophysics because I love thinking about impossibly big, old, and weird stuff. There’s just so much going on in the universe, involving so many aspects of physics, that there are always new surprises.
Tell us about your work?
I have a couple main research focuses (foci? never took latin). One is the subject of Cosmic Voids – vast regions of empty nothingness that take up most of the volume of the universe. They’re interesting objects to find and study by themselves, but their properties also give us clues about the history of the universe and what it’s made of.
I am also involved in the detection of the first stars in the universe. I’m part of a collaboration that’s building a giant radio telescope in the middle of a South African desert to go look for them. We won’t be able to see them directly, but we will be able to detect their influence on their environment when they form – an event known as “the cosmic dawn”.
Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?
This is your universe too! This is our home – our own backyard. While there are some practical benefits of astrophysical or cosmological research, that’s not why we do it. We do it because we’re curious – all of us – about our world, and some of us have turned that curiosity into a profession. And it’s entertaining! That’s why I focus so heavily on science outreach: to spread the joy and excitement of learning new things about the universe around us.
Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?
Besides my research, I do a lot of outreach, including two podcasts and a youtube series. This takes up a good amount of time but it’s worth it!
Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?
My wife and I have been competitive ballroom dancers for over seven years. I like to scuba dive, too, but that’s a little bit difficult from central Ohio.
How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)
One part of my job that I really enjoy is the opportunity to travel. I’ve gone all over the world to give talks, and wherever I go I like to take an extra day or two to just dig into a city and explore – and eats lots of delicious food!
Please join us in welcoming Paul to Real Scientists!