Last Friday I gave a public lecture on gravitational dynamics at the Columbia Astronomy Department Stargazing & Lecture Series. The talk was really well attended, and I was surprised to see so many people interested in hearing about astronomy on a Friday night. The big auditorium in Pupin Hall felt packed to me (my perception may have been biased, though).
The title of my talk was Juggling with Black Holes, which is probably why so many people came in the first place. Who doesn’t like black holes?! Especially now that Interstellar is in theaters! I mainly focussed on explaining what a black hole is, and how black holes interact with stars and other black holes – causing slingshots, mergers and runaways. With a few simple animations, I wanted to show the beauty of pure gravitational dynamics.
Afterwards I was confronted with tons of questions, some of which were challenging, others were just outspokenly amazing. Best one: “Can we use black holes to generate energy?” This question came from a super bright high school student in a separate session after the main lecture. The separate meeting was organized by Project Rousseau – a non-profit organization, which helps underprivileged students to develop their full potential.
I’m not kidding when I say that this was the most rewarding experience of my career. I had no idea how beneficial public outreach can be. If you have the chance to reach out, do it!