November 2, 2006
Secrets of cosmos draw eyes heavenward
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"According to the Talmud," said Mike Cohen, 24, a graduate student in theoretical physics at Caltech, "there are several things that are a mitzvah to study, because studying these things leads to an understanding of creation. Math, astronomy and physics are foremost among them." Cohen recounts how when he was growing up, he and his yeshiva-educated father would engage in lively debates about the world around them. The relationship between theology and the physical universe frequently figured into their conversations.
"My father was mad keen on physics," said Cohen, whose family moved from Israel to New Zealand just before he started elementary school.
Considering the rich philosophical and scientific matrix in which Cohen's intellectual life took root, it's no surprise that his academic interests have led him to study phenomena at the frontier between philosophy and science.
"I've always been interested in black holes," he said. "I'm just really intrigued by the idea of a boundary between one universe and another universe. It's where physics intersects the world of ideas. In black holes, matter exists yet it doesn't exist. All the matter is gone, but a black hole behaves as if all the matter were still there."
Another young space scientist is heeding a call to make the inescapable but obscure drama of the cosmos more accessible to lay people. When visitors to the Griffith Observatory check out "Centered in the Universe," the opening show at the observatory's revamped planetarium, they'll likely get to sample some of Jeremy Wertheimer's handiwork.
Wertheimer, 25, is a graduate student in astronomy at UC Santa Cruz. The summer after his graduation from Pomona College, he helped to develop a computer model that guides the planetarium's "camera" on a tour of the Local Group -- the posse of over 30 galaxies that includes the Milky Way.
His work at Griffith Observatory cinched Wertheimer's decision to become the director of a planetarium some day. "It's no good for me just to understand these things for myself," he said. "I need to help other people understand them, too."
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