Archive for the ‘Science and Technology’ Category
Jesuit Father Thomas Acker has been named the next president of Sigma Xi, an international, multidisciplinary research society. With nearly 60,000 members in more than 100 countries around the world, Sigma Xi has 500 chapters including eight at Jesuit universities in the United States.
Membership in Sigma Xi is by invitation with full membership conferred upon those who have demonstrated noteworthy achievements in research. More than 200 members have won the Nobel Prize and many more have earned election to the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering.
Fr. Acker will be begin his duties the summer of 2012.
Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in the growing awareness that God can found in everyone, in every place and in everything. But in rocks from outer space? Jesuit Brother Bob Macke says yes. Currently in his first year of theology studies at Boston College, he shared his thoughts on how God can be found in lunar material, some of which is more than 4.5 billion (yes, with a B) years old.
One of the things that attracted me to the Society of Jesus was the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things. I saw Jesuits seeking and finding God in so many ways, from ministering in the Third World, to delving into questions of philosophy and theology to exploring the grandeur of the universe.
As someone with a background in physics and astronomy, I am no stranger to the idea that by studying God’s creation we encounter God. As a 38-year-old, first-year theology student at Boston College and a recent graduate of a physics doctoral program, I can see in hindsight a pattern of formation as a Jesuit brother that has only strengthened this idea.
After I completed philosophy studies in 2006, I began my regency assignment teaching physics and astronomy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, a wonderful opportunity to teach in my field and minister to students. During that time, I heard from a friend at the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who told me about an opportunity to study meteorite physical properties in a doctoral program at the University of Central Florida. I had spent a summer at the Vatican Observatory doing exactly that kind of research. So, with the provincial’s blessing, I left regency after only one year and spent the next four years at the University of Central Florida measuring the densities of meteorites, the percentages of pore space within them and their responses to a magnetic field. And somehow, as part of graduate studies and in the context of Jesuit life, I was to find God in these rocks from outer space.
Studying meteorites can be tedious work, but the pursuit involved travel to New York, Washington, Chicago and London where meteorites are held in museum or university collections.
As I studied more than 1,300 specimens, sometimes the tedium of the repetitive process became too great. I then would hold one of the more primitive meteorites in my hand and muse upon it, reminding myself that it was 4.5 billion years old, one of the earliest objects to form when the solar system itself was forming, and holding clues to that history.
Embedded within the meteorite are a few tiny grains of material that survived the heat and shock of its forming and that remain essentially unchanged from the moment they were created in stars. They are literally stardust. I am awestruck, and in that awe I once again encounter God.
As a priest and an astronomer, Jesuit Father George Coyne bridges the worlds of faith and science, but he’s quick to acknowledge that they serve two different purposes. “I can’t know if there is a God or if there is not a God by science,” he says.
At the same time the emeritus director of the Vatican Observatory sees no conflict between scientific and religious knowledge, though he admits that the church has not always agreed. But even in the famous case of the astronomer Galileo, there were issues other than science at stake, notably who could interpret the Bible. “Galileo was never given a chance to talk about his science,” Coyne says. “Galileo knew how to interpret scripture, but he did it privately.” The Council of Trent had forbidden private interpretation 70 years before in response to the Reformation.
Still, says Coyne, Galileo pointed the way to a happier relationship between faith and science. “Galileo anticipated by four centuries what the church would finally say about the interpretation of scripture,” argues Coyne. “Galileo said that scripture was written to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
Fr. Coyne recently sat down with U.S. Catholic Magazine for a question-and-answer session about Catholicism, science and the human experience.
Give us some amazing facts about the universe that would enrich a Catholic understanding of faith.
The universe understood scientifically is an amazing challenge to both science and to religious faith. The scientific facts about the universe are very well established. First the universe is 13.7 billion years old. A billion is a one with nine zeroes behind it, so that’s a lot of years. Second, it contains 10,000 billion billion stars. That’s a one with 22 zeroes behind it.
We know the age of the universe by its expansion: Galaxies are all moving away from us. There is a very tight relationship between their distance from us and their speed. Namely, the farther away an object is, the faster it is going. If you’re two times farther away from me, you’re going away four times faster. If you’re four times farther away from me, you’re going away 16 times faster. It holds for every galaxy in the whole universe.
When we measure the age of the universe by its expansion, we discover that the universe began to expand 13.7 billion years ago, plus or minus 200 million years. It’s an amazing measurement.
How do we count all those stars?
When the Hubble telescope takes a photograph of the most distant part of the universe we can see, it produces an image called the Hubble Deep Field. The image has millions of dots of light, and every one of those dots of light is a galaxy. Hubble concentrated on a very small part of the sky, one-twentieth of the thickness of my index finger held at arm’s length. So you have a million galaxies in this little piece of the sky. What if we measured the whole sky? By multiplying all that together you get 100 billion galaxies, each of which contains, on the average, 200 billion stars.
Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno is the curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer residence. His research explores the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system. Prior the joining the Jesuits, he obtained his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a PhD in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona.
After speaking at the Jesuit Brothers Institute on Jesuits in the Sciences, Br. Consolmagno took some time out to sit down with National Jesuit News and share the story of his vocation:
An astronomer by training, Jesuit Father George Coyne has devoted much of his life to researching the surfaces of the moon and Mercury, interstellar matter, binary stars and distant galaxies in order to gain a greater understanding of them. He has taught astronomy at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and has served as both director of the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. Now, he joins the faculty of Le Moyne College in Syracuse as their first Religious Philosophy chairman.
Coyne’s arrival comes at a time of exceptional student interest in the natural sciences and allied health fields at Le Moyne. Opening this month, its new science complex will house the physical, life and health sciences. This addition is a 50,000-square-foot building that will adjoin the reconfigured Coyne Science Center for a total of 105,000 square feet of academic space. The complex includes teaching facilities to accommodate large introductory-level classes and small upper-level classes, as well as cutting-edge facilities for faculty research and faculty-mentored student research.