Lew House Ignites a Big Bang

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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.Academy Board

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.”

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Bennie Bub: Visionary & Versatile Volunteer

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Academy BoardDr. Bennie Bub has worn almost as many hats at the Academy as he did during his multi-faceted, globe-spanning career. From 2011 until mid-2013, he served as the Academy board president, in addition to serving for several years on the curriculum committee. He has also volunteered as a course organizer (for this past spring’s Breakthroughs in Science classes and, previously, Brain Games) and course leader and has regularly showcased his classes at the Academy’s annual sampler, the One-Day University.

Topping his Academy contributions is the key role he has played in launching and constantly reinvigorating the Academy’s science curriculum. Bennie created and led the fascinating 3-part Human Behavior and Neurobiology series, which was repeated by popular demand. This fall, in his new course Guard Your Genes: Harmful Behavior Affects Future Generations, Bennie will probe yet another cutting-edge topic, epigenetics. This emerging discipline examines the development and maintenance–as well as heredity–of an organism, focusing on how a set of chemical reactions switches parts of your genome off and on at strategic times and locations.

A South African neurosurgeon board-certified in three different specialties on three continents, Bennie began his career when, as a medical student, he taught physics at a technical college in return for free car maintenance courses. Completing his many degrees, residencies and certifications, followed by medical practice and teaching, took him from Cape Town to the UK and, in 1976, the US.

However, his interests have always ranged far beyond medicine. For example, while serving as a Harvard teaching and research fellow, as well as a resident at leading Boston hospitals, he studied violin performance at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

In the early nineties, Bennie founded and led a successful database company, which provided credentialing of physicians for health insurance companies. Since retirement he has indulged in his love of music, travel and reading, all the while striving to stay au courant with the neurosciences.

Fortunately for the Academy, Bennie continues to actively recruit Academy course leaders who mirror his exemplary approach of offering intensely-researched and dynamically-presented classes adroitly tailored to lifelong learners.

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