Having a BLAST at Penn

By Mark Trodden | April 10, 2009 2:05 pm

My colleague Mark Devlin is the Principal Investigator of the Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Submillimeter Telescope (BLAST). BLAST is a terrific experiment that does a number of different things, including studying the history of galaxy formation through measuring the cosmic infrared background produced by star-forming galaxies. Over at In the Dark, Peter Coles has also discussed BLAST, since the Cardiff group are a big part of the experiment.

This week has been a big one for BLAST, seeing the publication of a host of papers, including a major results paper appearing in Nature.

In addition, the science writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer – Faye Flam – wrote a nice article about the experiment, describing not only the results, but the compelling and dramatic story associated with the recovery of the data. Remarkably, Mark’s brother, Paul, who is a documentary film maker, was covering the experiment when all the excitement happened, and the result is a riveting movie titled, not surprisingly, BLAST!, that is being screened on Wednesday evening on the Penn campus. We saw a clip of this at our recent launch event for the Center for Particle Cosmology, and it’s a great advertisement for science as an exciting endeavor.

I hope you’ll see the movie, so I won’t spoil the surprise by discussing what happened. But here’s the trailer!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Science and Society
  • John

    Very cool! Mark and Paul come by it honestly: they are the sons of Tom Devlin, professor in physics at Rutgers for many years, and now retired. Tom recruited me to Rutgers, well, a long time ago, and was an excellent mentor until I headed west five years ago. I’ve known Mark and Paul since their early careers; Paul did a nice documentary some years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, on the situation with electric power in Tblisi, Georgia, entitled “Power Trip”. Paul has been studying cosmic microwaves for a long time now, pushing the envelope in angular resolution on the CMBR and measuring polarization. There is a third Devlin brother, an inventor…

    I also met Faye twice, once at an APS meeting in DC in the early 90’s and then later at one of the big conferences in our field in Vancouver. I remember vividly, her rapt attention at my attempt to explain quantum mechanics and particle physics to her, and her encouragement to try to write about it, which I do now, after a fashion, in this blog. Her articles are always entertaining and interesting, and her interest in physics and the people who do it shine through.

  • Gauri


    I was quite excited to see the results, because I had listened to the story of BLAST just a few months ago. Mark Devlin was here at IUCAA-Pune and gave 2 fantastic lectures on BLAST and ACT. He had talked in detail about the last flight of BLAST and the pains in recovering the hard-drives in white-painted casings in the white Antarctic snow from a flying chopper! So really, it was very exciting to see the papers. I realy wish to see the movie though. Wonder if they would screen it in India.. or maybe a dvd?

  • Pieter Kok

    I have seen this on British TV a few weeks ago. It’s a really good film!

  • http://blastexperiment.info/ Matthew Truch

    Shameless DVD plug: The film will be available on DVD. And you can preorder one now (for a limited time). Go to http://blastthemovie.com/ for more details.

  • mandeep gill

    Mark- thx for sharing this, looks like a really cool little film and i look forward to seeing the full thing — looks like there’s going to be a little bit of religion and science discussion in it too, which for one is probably good for tantalizing marketing, and second is i think quite a good thing, to show people of faith that it’s not *religion* and science that are antithetical, but the fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible — such as Creationism.

    While not very religious in a traditional sense myself, i’ve been around enough quite religious folks to be quite sensitive to this issue, and that the sledgehammer approach of Dawkins et. al. is actually probably counterproductive to the cause of science in such a still heavily religiously fundamentalist country as the US is (despite some promising recent statistics, pointed out here at CV i believe within the last couple of weeks).

  • Pingback: Blast: the movie « Later On()

  • James

    I just wanted to let you know, irrespective of this post, that we physics grad students check out your blog whenever we want to give up. And then we curl up into a ball and cry, wake up the next morning, and forget it ever happened.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Glad we can help James.

  • Donald Simmons

    Saw it here in Toronto at the Hot Docs film festival last year. Great film. Had me eating my fingers at times going “Oh no! They’re going to lose their data!”

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About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.


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