Understanding the Universe:

"After all, what's life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies." -- Charlotte, from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web

While for myself, I'm quite a bit more attached to my life than Charlotte's cold, rational outlook on it all, it describes as accurately today as it did when I first heard it in first grade the brevity and preciousness of our lives.  Yet, despite our accomplishments and achievements, the Universe that we're a part of can show us all how insignificant we are in comparison to the history of the cosmos.  The Universe is so vast that if you were to run as fast as any human has ever sprinted, every second of every day of your entire life, for ten thousand lifetimes, and stretch that entire distance in a straight line, you would go only 1% of the distance to the nearest star.  And the furthest object we know of is ten billion times as distant as that!

And yet, here we are, 13.7 billion years since the beginning of the Universe.  We can look towards the heavens and begin to understand what the Universe around us looks like.  We can theorize about where it came from, how it got to be this way, and what its eventual fate will be.  And we can discriminate between which theories are valid and which are invalid.  This lifetime is the only one I have to try to find answers to these questions -- perhaps the most important (and difficult) questions one can ask.  I don't expect to find the answers in my lifetime, but I'd like to spend my life searching, and to come as close as possible to answering the most fundamental questions about our very existence.

For more about the specific research topics I've been working on recently, check out this page.

Teaching and Outreach:

"When you make the finding yourself - even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light - you'll never forget it." -- Carl Sagan

What we need is another Carl Sagan, who doesn’t talk down to the general...public, but also wants to bring them along for the ride through this wondrous and mysterious universe." -- The Space Review, Dwayne A. Day

There is wonder and magic in the Universe around us -- anyone who's looked up on a clear night can see that with their own eyes.  There is so much that's been discovered just within my lifetime, and yet there is no one reaching out as Carl Sagan did to the public at large, bringing them the joy and wonder inherent in understading the universe.  I don't know whether I have it in me to fill shoes as large as those, but I'd like to do all I can to make it happen, as I think there are hundreds of millions of people who would marvel at the things we know, if only they understood them, and understood how we know such things.  The beauty of science is you don't have to take something on faith -- if you've got the know-how and the tools, you can go out and verify (or falsify) a scientific theory for yourself.

Many people are doing excellent jobs of scientific public outreach in their chosen capacities, but one of my long-term goals is to be able to reach a massive audience and to communicate not only the mysteries, both solved and unsolved, of the Universe, but the passion and joy that comes along with taking another step towards understanding something that unifies everyone, everywhere.  I have some experience attempting to do this, as I've taught to smaller audiences, given scientific lectures and more colloquium-style seminars, I've been a teaching assistant for physics I & II (with calculus) and a lecturer for introductory physics (for general students) a
t the University of Florida.  I also spent a year teaching public high school at King-Drew HS in Los Angeles, which has given me an interesting perspective on where the general public's knowledge level and interest level is in this arena.

For a wonderful program that I'd like very much to be a part of, that would provide a starting point for me to combine both research and outreach, check out the NSF's Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowships.

Improving Life for Scientists:

"Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul." -- High School Principal, from Billy Madison

If you've ever felt like the recipient of a statement like this for getting something wrong, and survived, perhaps you have what it takes to go through graduate school in physics.  To be completely honest, life as a scientist can be hard.  People will judge you.  Insecure people will berate your intelligence and competence.  And oftentimes, you will be treated in a grossly unfair manner.  But if you have a passion for understanding the world around you, as I do, it may be worth the struggle, and you, too, may become a scientist.

I strongly believe that researching the natural world is difficult enough on its own without the aforementioned obstacles.  Yet, the reality is that there are these additional obstacles that need to be tackled.  In an attempt to make my small corner of the scientific world a better place, I have taken action the best way I know how -- through organization and mobilization of the people who aspire to become tomorrow's scientists.

I've created a survival guide for physics graduate students at UF.  This is my (unsanctioned and slightly dated) advice on how to get on track and stay on the right track towards your Ph.D; it is intended to be especially useful for 1st year students.  Since our graduate coordinator is not the most personable guy, this guide contains all the tips I've learned on the topic of how to overcome many of the barriers that grad students here normally face.

I have become the lone student representative on GSAC (the committee that deals with graduate student affairs and issues); we have been fighting to revoke the pay cuts TAs were often forced to take after their first years, increase student travel funding, and increase the quality and number of advanced graduate courses offered.  UPDATE:  All incoming graduate students as of Fall 2005 will not be subjected to pay cuts!  If you have any questions or problems as a graduate student at UF, you should feel free to contact me, as I am more than happy to help you out if I can.

For the summer of 2006, I'm also serving as an assistant coordinator for REU students at the University of Florida, assisting students with their transitions into research groups, helping organize and coordinate their activities, and working to improve their presentation skills.

Also, for some general information relevant to UF graduate students, this page answers frequently asked questions about the graduate school.  Furthermore, if you are looking for a non-academic job, Garrett Oakley from Chemistry has designed a presentation with tips for finding a job, and if you are writing your dissertation, Filippos Klironomos has provided his dissertation template, which only requires minor editing to make a passable document.  (Note: You still need to actually write the dissertation.)

For those of you who like links, here are some of possible usefulness (and time-wasting-ness):
Thanks to google, for showing the value of a simple, garbage-free webpage, unlike my old page, or my undergrad page.