Photogenic astronomers

By Phil Plait | December 8, 2009 8:00 am

I love clever photographers. Max Alexander falls firmly into that category, given his brilliant collection of photographs he took of UK astronomers as part of the IYA. As he put it:

I chose to portray astronomers as individuals, rather than astronomy as a subject, in order to personalize the contributions to society. […] Almost every picture has a story behind it, either because of the relevance and personality of the scientist, or because of the context of the situation.

I think he did pretty well! My favorite is this one:

hiranya_peiris

Why? Because of the astronomy inside joke of her holding a staticky television. Read the info for that photo to see why.

Tip o’ the lens cap to my bud Amanda Bauer, aka astropixie.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, IYA, Pretty pictures

Comments (49)

  1. rob

    sadly, with HDTV you don’t get static anymore.

  2. nobody

    I liked Will Percival’s photo. I flipped horizontally the photo with GIMP and saw the equations he wrote. Now, I’ll steal his idea and publish before he does hehehe…

    PS Dr Peiris is hot :)

  3. BigBadSis

    The photo of Roger Pinrose is my favorite. Very clever!

  4. IBY

    I liked the one with the mirror that said multiverse.

  5. I kind of miss the old style, manually tuned televisions.

    My nephew is just starting to learn about astronomy at the primary school level and it would be great to be able to explain frequency and modulation to him with a TV. Sadly, it’s a thing of the past. The digitally tuned radio in the car doesn’t quite do it.

  6. Quiet Desperation

    I kind of miss the old style, manually tuned televisions.

    Bleah! That’s almost at the level of a fetish. :-) I tease. Still… bleah!

    My nephew is just starting to learn about astronomy at the primary school level and it would be great to be able to explain frequency and modulation to him with a TV. Sadly, it’s a thing of the past. The digitally tuned radio in the car doesn’t quite do it.

    *shrug* Digital tuners still use frequency and modulation. A digital PLL isn’t all that different from an analog one.

    The AM broadcast standard is as it ever was. You can still build a working radio set with very few parts.

    http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2006/08/how_to_make_a_simple_am_r.html

    Here’s a kit that has the schematic on the PWB.

    http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-AM-780K-IC-Radio-Kit/dp/B000IXMOQM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=toys-and-games&qid=1260287946&sr=8-1

  7. Sir Eccles

    You do get static with HDTV, it’s just that it’s now in crystal clear 1080p with surround sound.

  8. ND

    Why is Patrick Moore always so serious and grumpy looking?

  9. Zucchi

    Great pictures! I especially liked Dr. Giovanna Tinetti with the helical staircase, and Dr. Brian May, who wrote “’39”, perhaps the most popular British pop song about interstellar travel and time dilation.

  10. Rob

    I think the last one, of young Mr. Parker, is my favourite. What I’d give to be his age again. With today’s technology, amateur astronomers are taking photos that are equal to (or even rival) what the big observatories were doing ten years ago. Imagine what William has to look forward to?

  11. love these photos. trying to decide what my own would be. what is the inside joke about galaxy formation and evolution?? hm…

    will you be at AAS, phil? if so, i’ll see you there! i was sad to miss TAM in london, but i was in germany.

  12. LK

    “PS Dr Peiris is hot :)”

    Yeah, and she can probably kill you with her brain. Maybe you could take your chauvinistic head out of your ass and show a little respect.

  13. PhilB

    I’ve gotta echo Rob, the last one is definitely my favorite. Reminds me of being that age in the 80’s and wanting a telescope for watching the Halley’s comet pass.

  14. Mike

    Great photos, I especially like Prof. Barrow’s clock on the wall. I have one in my office, I purchased it from thinkgeek.com. Take a careful look at it.

  15. Skeptic Tim

    Perhaps it’s just me but when I look at that TV, I think I see a picture of the big bang!

  16. @ LK:

    A few decades ago, I thought Patrick Moore was hot.

    But then I’m a chauvinist. (And somewhat odd.)

  17. Sarcastro

    Yeah, and she can probably kill you with her brain.

    Uh… I’ll be in my bunk.

  18. John

    My personal fave is Dr. Brian May, but mostly because I’m a huge Queen fan. ;)

  19. Thank goodness LK is here to defend poor, helpless Dr. Peiris from those who would comment on anything but her IQ. I’m sure Dr. Peiris, being a professional scientist, would be mortified to hear that someone thought she looked good in a photoshoot.

  20. Yeah, and she can probably kill you with her brain.

    So, would that make her the opposite of a zombie?

    Loved the one of the spiral staircase as well!

    #1 Rob
    I never really gave it much thought about TV snow not being around on HDTV. One of the things I will miss is when AM radio eventually passes away in the night. I will miss being able to tune in distant stations in the middle of the night.

    #19: Well Naked Bunny, if she is offended, she could kill him with her brain!

  21. Gus Snarp

    Wait, Brian May is a PhD Astrophysicist? How cool is that?

  22. LK

    @Naked Bunny

    I doubt Dr. Peiris would have made it so far if she were incapable of defending herself against the implicit sexism that accompanies being an attractive woman in a male-dominated profession. I guess what I’m wondering is why she has to be defended at all.

    Maybe because nameless creeps on the internet still feel entitled to pass judgement on her sex appeal, and expect it to be ok because the commentary is favorable. Actually, it’s about as inappropriate as if I had posted, “Look at Dr. Burnell – what a hag! :D” (which I don’t believe in the slightest).

    But then, maybe you’re right. I think I speak for Dr. Peiris when I say there is no higher honor, after acquiring two Masters degrees and a Doctorate in astrophysics – not to mention countless awards, fellowships, and grants for research into the deepest mysteries of the universe – than to be called “hot” by some guy on the internet. Thanks ever so much.

  23. tacitus

    The photo of a very pregnant Dr Serena Viti titled “The Chemistry of Life” is inspired on so many levels.

  24. Kaj

    Boo Phil! Dr Viti is clearly the coolest pic! Of course, I may be slightly biased… that’s my baby son Julian in there. ;-)

  25. Ben

    Beautiful – all of them. This is the kind of hero worship that we need more of.

  26. Joey Joe Joe

    @LK:
    “Yeah, and she can probably kill you with her brain. Maybe you could take your chauvinistic head out of your ass and show a little respect.”

    Quit white knighting.

  27. Sarcastro

    So, do we want to present scientists, especially female scientists, as being cool and hip? Because, truth be told, those are just synonyms for “hot”.

    While nobody (that is poster #2, not in general) could have expressed it better than simply “[she’s] hot”, the sentiment should not be entirely unwelcome. She’s a very attractive woman and it is a good thing to let girls know that science and femininity are not mutually incompatible. Apologies to Dr. Burnell, who is a quite handsome woman (and discovered pulsars… which is smoking hot), but she is somewhat severe and professional looking in that photo. Sort of a female version of the crew-cuts and shirt-sleeves types at NASA who epitomized astrophysics in the 60s. You needed hippies like Sagan to show up with his mop of hair and a Porsche to make it all cool and fun again.

    We can also turn this around. Why is Brian May shown with a guitar? What does that have to do with astrophysics? Nothing. It’s all about showing how god damned hot he is. You can be a super-cool rock star with hot and cold running groupies on call 24/7 and still find it desirable to geek out like nobody’s business. Now that’s a message to today’s youth I can stand behind.

  28. LK

    @Joe x 3

    Are you implying that objecting to sexism is somehow paternalistic and/or patriarchal? Because you’ll have to run the logic of that one by me again…

  29. LK

    @Sarcastro

    I disagree that “cool” and “hip” are synonyms for “hot.” The former terms can be applied to someone without the slightest reference to their appearance. The latter is reserved solely for commentary on someone’s appearance.

    While it may be an admirable goal to demonstrate to girls that science and femininity are not mutually exclusive, it is not very supportive of girls to transmit the message (and reinforce it) that even when they’re a world-renowned astrophysicist, they’ll never escape the totally irrelevant comments on the pleasantness of their waist-to-hip ratio.

    Because, as we all know, the highest compliment you can possibly pay a woman is to tell her how sexually appealing she is. Her self-esteem revolves around that single aspect of her life, and it’s not at all condescending to assume that she’ll be totally pleased to know that strange men have evaluated her physical attractiveness and assessed her favorably.

    Maybe girls wouldn’t see a conflict between science and femininity if the whole world could just get over the fact that they’re -girls- for one. single. day.

  30. tacitus

    We can also turn this around. Why is Brian May shown with a guitar? What does that have to do with astrophysics? Nothing. It’s all about showing how god damned hot he is.

    That’s ridiculous. The caption — “Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see” — explains exactly why there is a guitar in the photo. There’s no doubt that the only reason May has a photo at all is because he’s an astronomer who’s a a famous rock guitarist, but that’s perfectly appropriate and nothing to do with his “hotness.”

  31. uknesvuinng

    It amazes me that merely complimenting one’s appearance is taken as an insult. No one reduced her entire value as a human to her looks. Believe it or not, it’s not a bad thing for women to be attractive and noticed as such. Maybe others should consider their own implicit sexism in assuming any compliment on appearance toward women is automatically a chauvinistic statement.

  32. rob

    hey, Professor Warren looks pretty hot in his photo…

  33. Not to keep whacking this ex-equus, but didn’t the original poster say “PS Dr Peiris is hot” … without mentioning why she was hot? Maybe “nobody” digs women with brains, and considers multiple-degrees “hot.” But noooooo….someone has to automatically assume that it was a comment about her physical hotness. Isn’t that a little, oh, what’s the word, chauvinistic?

    And…why does LK automatically assume the poster was a male? Isn’t that a little, oh, what’s the word, chauvinistic?

  34. I think Phil Plait is a hawt hottie… in a purely scientific way… :)

  35. Hey Phil!

    That’s very much like the project two high school interns did with me this summer! You can see their 20+ pictures of astronomers here:

    http://www.pacificsciencecenter.org/scientists/

    Cool huh?
    -Alice

  36. T.E.L.

    Saying she’s hot isn’t chaunistic. The chauvinism would be denying her a job in astrophysics because women need to learn their place.

  37. Masook

    Pretty, brilliant, and a role model (at least to the kids on my block).

    @LK- Don’t front your hate just because nobody has complimented you on your looks. You might need a session or two with Freud. Seems like the commentators here have nothing but proper regard to Dr. Peiris. What a great role model she is.

  38. JB of Brisbane

    @LK – What’s it like up there on the moral high ground? I’m guessing stormy.

  39. geeoutlier

    @JB of Brisbane – I think the seeing might be better up there

  40. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at least half a dozen of the people in those photos. One of them, Prof. Alan Watson, was one of my university lecturers, more years ago than I care to admit!

  41. Attila Szegedi
  42. Nigel Depledge

    Gus Snarp (21) said:

    Wait, Brian May is a PhD Astrophysicist? How cool is that?

    Yeah, he was working on zodiacal light in the early 70s, but then (apparently) found something better to do with his time.

    A few years ago (2006 maybe?) he went back and finished his thesis, submitted it and was awarded his PhD.

  43. Nigel Depledge

    Tacitus (30) said:

    That’s ridiculous. The caption — “Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see” — explains exactly why there is a guitar in the photo. There’s no doubt that the only reason May has a photo at all is because he’s an astronomer who’s a a famous rock guitarist, but that’s perfectly appropriate and nothing to do with his “hotness.”

    Erm, actually, I felt that line was inappropriate, because Freddy wrote it, not Brian. I think Brian wrote enough songs that an appropriate line could have been found. (E.g. “And they bring good news / Of a world so newly born,” or “Star Fleet!” – no, wait, that one was fictional, wasn’t it?).

  44. Nigel Depledge

    There are so many excellent pics here, but I especially liked the one of Prof Ken Pounds (CBE, FRS). It looks like it was taken at the UK’s National Space Centre in Leicestershire.

    Plus, also, the pic of Roger Penrose is simply a superb photo.

  45. Nigel Depledge

    And it looks like Prof Colin Pillinger (CBE, FRS) is having a whole damn load of fun!

  46. JT

    LK: “Are you implying that objecting to sexism is somehow paternalistic and/or patriarchal? Because you’ll have to run the logic of that one by me again…”

    You’re not objecting to sexism, LK. You’re pretending that by complementing an attractive woman’s appearance the poster was denigrating her intelligence. In doing so, you are furthering the stereotype that attractive women are ditzes.

  47. Jeff

    I’ve been a physics prof. for 30 years. Let’s put it this way, if I wanted to see pretty people, I wouldn’t go to the astronomy conventions, more like I’d go to E channel.

  48. DaveS

    I’d point out that the title to the BA article is “Photogenic astronomers”, not “Astronomers whose looks are irrelevant”. Dr. Peiris looks good in the picture. She’s smart enough to kill with her brain. And she’s a musician. I call that pretty hot, overall. Brian May is hot in quite the same context, so how can it be sexist?

  49. Chris Winter

    Oblique reference: “The sky over the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.”

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