The coolest thing I am doing right now: Go here to learn about the amazing collaborative studio/science class that I will be co-teaching this Spring for the second time along with artist Paola Cabal. It's intense, it's unique, and it's the kind of thing that is only possible at a place like SAIC.
Here's the more general background: I am a physicist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). My scientific research focuses on data analysis for experiments in cosmology and nuclear physics. I'm interested in the process by which physicists transform raw information from detector systems into knowledge about the world, especially the argumentation used to account for sources of uncertainty in the measurement process.
I view my classes at SAIC as a laboratory for exploring science communication, science in society, and critical perspectives on the nature of science and the meaning of scientific knowledge. My professional work is expanding to include projects that draw from my teaching and from interdisciplinary dialog with my SAIC colleagues and students.
I have been a member of the South Pole Telescope (SPT) collaboration since 2005, and maintain a research affiliation with the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, which is the lead institution for the SPT project. The South Pole Telescope is a microwave telescope that detects relic radiation from the Big Bang. Some recent papers to which I have contributed:
* "A measurement of the secondary-CMB and millimeter-wave-foreground bispectrum using 800 square degrees of South Pole Telescope data", T.M. Crawford, K.K. Schaffer, S. Bhattacharya et. al, submitted to the Astrophysical Journal (2013).
*"The First Public Release of South Pole Telescope Data: Maps of a 95-square-degree Field from 2008 Observations", K.K. Schaffer, T.M. Crawford et. al, Astrophysical Journal 743 (2011).
*"Measurements of Secondary Cosmic Microwave Background Anisotropies with the South Pole Telescope", M. Leuker, C.L. Reichardt, K.K. Schaffer et. al, Astrophysical Journal 719 (2010).
Pursuing a personal interest in nuclear non-proliferation and safeguards science, I spent the Summer of 2011 as a Faculty Guest Researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory. I worked with researchers in the N1 group who are developing microcalorimeter systems for non-destructive assay of nuclear materials, studying approaches to data analysis and uncertainty estimation. This work contributed to the following paper:
* "Determination of Plutonium Isotopic Content by Microcalorimeter Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy", A.S. Hoover et. al, IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science 60 (2013).
My graduate research (at the University of Washington) was in the field of nuclear and particle physics, as a member of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory collaboration. For my dissertation I analyzed the so-called "day-night effect" for solar neutrinos, and my results were documented in the following paper:
* "Electron Energy Spectra, Fluxes, and Day-Night Asymmetries of 8B Solar Neutrinos from the 391-Day Salt Phase SNO Data Set" The SNO Collaboration. Physical Review C 72 (2005)
To see more, here is my complete publication list from INSPIRE.
My classes at SAIC are designed to give students a liberal-arts-physics experience that challenges them to think in new ways, reflect on their own worldview, and engage critically with current debates that involve science. I am currently focusing most on the following three classes:
1. Waves. Waves is an inquiry-based lab class. We study phenomena related to sound, light, water waves, and vibrations. We then apply the same concepts to gain insights into quantum physics and a range of current scientific research topics, from biosonar to gravitational waves. In this class, students work in groups to design their own observations and experiments to try to answer open-ended "research" questions that often originate from their own curiosity. The insights and sketches recorded in student lab notebooks are incorporated into lectures and discussions. I am beginning work on a book to support this course that explicitly emphasizes analogy, visual representation, mental models, and hands-on exploration of wave phenomena.
2. The Unstable Nucleus. This is a lecture-discussion course that tackles science content in the context of current events and controversial issues. The course introduces the physics of the nucleus, the types and effects of radiation, and the science behind nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. Signature features of this course include a class blog and weekly discussion of current "nuclear news," an emphasis on "nuanced questions" that do not have straightforward textbook answers, and essay assignments that require students to marshall their scientific knowledge in support of their own opinions on current nuclear policy topics.
3. The Leading Edge: Astrophysics. This is an experimental course in collaboration with the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics (KICP). The course is structured around three guest lectures from early-career KICP researchers. The guests benefit from student feedback to hone their public communication skills. The class then studies the topics introduced by each lecturer in detail, and students develop individual verbal, written, and visual explanations of bite-sized science topics drawn from each guest's research narrative. In addition to giving researchers a chance to "workshop" their communication skills, this class brings cutting edge science to a non-specialist audience and explores how constructing explanations can help not just for communication but also for one's own understanding.
* SAIC Conversations on Art and Science: I am a founding co-organizer of this event series at SAIC.
* Outreach collaborations with KICP: I've been involved with public outreach lectures (including the Brinson lectures and some lectures co-sponsored by C2ST), art-science faculty exchanges, and SAIC student design projects that relate to KICP science.
* The Small Science Collective: I do zine projects in some of my classes in partnership with this effort, which is the brainchild of my colleague Andy Yang. I have represented the Small Science Collective at the Chicago Zine Fest.
* Old blogs: For a while I kept a blog on interesting physics topics, at the request of my students, although I've neglected it for a couple of years now. And many years ago, I kept a blog on my trips to work on the South Pole Telescope.