How does a scientist-scholar with a Ph.D. in astrophysics keep 65 class members—some with no math or science background–entranced and enthusiastically engaged for seven weeks in a course on The Big Bang: Stars, Galaxies & Dark Stuff? Academy board member Dr. Lew House’s secret is a dynamite combination of humor and intellectual challenge expertly tailored to the layman.
Last spring, he kicked off his weekly sessions with wittily-chosen songs from the Oldies chart like “Starlight.” From there his lectures went on to explore everything from “the miniscule aspects of quantum theory, such as the recent Higg’s boson, to the immensity of the universe itself, as seen by the Hubble telescope, a ‘time-machine’ looking back toward the beginning of the universe.”
Class member Phil Darcy was bowled over by Lew’s “excellent” skill in presenting such a demanding subject and vowed to take the class again, hoping to further fine-tune his understanding of the universe’s beginnings. The reward for participants like Jack Keenan, with a longtime interest in cosmology, was “one of my best intellectual experiences [ever] . . . inspiring.”
But what are the rewards for Lew? He says it best himself: “I have the most wonderful people in my class. They are full of curiosity and interest in a subject that can be so complex that it is always a challenge to try to bring it down to earth. Some struggle, some are already well informed, but the attention they all give to the subject in class and outside demonstrates they are very thoughtfully drinking it in and absorbing some part of the most complex and incomprehensible concepts known to science.”
Lew was especially intrigued by the grandmother who sat in the first row, taking copious notes to share with her grandson: “Maybe he will become an astrophysicist,” Lew muses. “Who knows? Things like that make all the work so worthwhile.”