Credit:Taod, "Self-portrait in spin"

Let's get physical
by Lauren Bertin

[Article featured in The Bennington Free Press, October 2010]

Douglas Gobeille is replacing physics faculty member Jason Zimba for the entirety of the 2010 - 2011 school year. Gobeille brings to our campus a variety of interests ranging from astrophysics to martial arts, all of which he is elated to share with students. Penny, his golden retriever, is also delighted to share her wisdom of physics; however, her physics revolves around 'catch'.

Gobeille first fell in love with the stars as a young boy. "My family got out of the car and went inside the house; realizing that I didn't come in with them, they found me outside like this," Gobeille explained while tilting his head up to the sky to demonstrate how he must have looked at the age of six. "My curfew had been early enough that I had never seen it before." Furthermore, Gobeille suggested his current position as a physics teacher arose from a influential people in his life and a variety of opportunities. These include his REU internship at The Southern Astronomical Research Association (SARA) where he worked on projects for NASA. Gobeille grew up in a small farm town in Rhode Island, where he had ample time to experiment and help stir his fascination with science at such an early age. However, Gobeille attributes his interest in teaching to simply being "in his blood". Of his seven siblings, four are either active or former teachers.

His current research has 'orbited' around radio astronomy, the study of space by means of radio frequencies. At this time, radio astronomy provides the best degree of detail in regards to viewing outer space. "[Radio astronomy] is the idea behind the difference in televisions in resolution today," explained Gobeille. "In a nutshell, I can say radio astronomy can see more [detail] at a greater distance than any other branch of astronomy."

Additionally, Gobeille feels that radio astronomy would undoubtedly provide the best way to communicate with any existing extraterrestrial life. Radio astronomy is efficient and basic. For example, your car supplies an impressive piece of simple radio technology. "Look at your car; your antenna is a piece of metal and it is a simple dipole," he stated,"It picks up radiation from all directions and converts it to music in your car." And this is just a small level at which radio astronomy works!

Those interested in studying the possibility of extraterrestrial life will find it exciting that a theoretical advanced course will be offered this spring entitled, "The Search of Life in the Universe". Students will be challenged with the task of investigating some "supposed" messages from other planets. While there has been no absolute proof of life in the rest of the universe, Gobeille reminds us of the huge radio signal--widely known as the "Wow Signal"--, which he suggests could demonstrate a potential for extra-terrestrial life forms.

However, Gobeille also made a crucial point in his argument against the "Wow signal" as a means of intelligence elsewhere. He explained, "You don't call, ring once and then hang up. If you are an alien species you keep calling." Furthermore, he elaborated that communication would come in the form of prime numbers, which rarely appear in the universe - "just like triangles don't form in nature." Finding a long string of prime numbers would very likely be alien communication. In addition to this class, he will also be teaching Stars and Galaxies in Cosmology and Observational Techniques in Astrophysics; the latter of which will entail using real data from such telescopes as Hubble in an attempt to produce and publish a science article.

Sitting down with Gobeille, it became clear that he has a lot of knowledge about astrophysics under his belt; what was not apparent right away was that he also had a blue belt in Tang Soo Doo, a type of Korean martial art that is practiced more as an art form than a sport. To Gobeille, "[Tang Soo Doo] is about bringing your mind and body and soul in a communion of sorts." Starting last week, he began teaching martial arts to students on Monday nights in hopes of inspiring students to take care of their bodies as much as their minds.

Between growing up with five sisters and two brothers (a very similar ratio to our campus), having a vast knowledge of facts and tidbits about the world, and a passion for both Astrophysics and Tang Soo Doo, Gobeille seems to fit in to our community extra-terrest-ordinarily. To really encapsulate faculty member Douglas Gobeille, I must end with his own words, "Unfortunately, the very first thing any alien will see from us is a broadcast from Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin games, which was the first broadcast sent into space and we've been doing it non-stop since. They will quickly leave Hitler and see broadcast television, which could be worse."