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Studying the Stars: Dr. Brad Barlow Passes Passion onto Students

Posted on March 6, 2014.

When you look up into the night sky, what do you see? If you are one of Dr. Brad Barlow’s students at High Point University there is a good chance you see endless possibilities. Barlow, assistant professor of astrophysics, is one of the most recent additions to HPU’s physics department, and in his first year he’s already made an impact on his students, including one who discovered a pulsating star.

You bring a lot of hands-on learning into your classes. Why is that important?

It’s funny, because astronomy is probably the least hands-on science out there in some ways. We can’t touch the objects we study because they’re in outer-space at great distances, but I still strive to be very hands-on. I think projects like building balloons to launch into near-space, accessing robotic telescopes in Chile to study the stars and actually taking students to Chile to see those telescopes in person create significant memories for the students that can only increase their excitement and involvement in what they’re learning.

One of your students recently discovered a pulsating star. Is this rare for undergraduates?

Undergraduate research in astronomy is extremely rare, and that is one of the things that really excited me about coming to HPU, and why I try to give all my students access to telescopes.

I have one rule with any student I do research with. I tell them that when they discover something big, like Stephen did, they can’t tell anyone, including me, about it for 20 minutes. Why? It’s because for those 20 minutes that student might be the only person in the universe who knows that piece of information. I don’t know if Stephen waited the full 20 minutes. He may have been too excited, but for a certain amount of time he was the only one that knew that star was a pulsator. You can’t know how that feels until you experience it for yourself, and I am so proud I was able to help Stephen experience that.

We aren’t doing work that will lead to a Nobel Prize or anything, but I try to emphasize that the work they are doing is indeed pushing boundaries.

So what’s next for you and your students?

This summer, I’m going to take a group of students to Chile to see the telescopes we’ve been using all year. I’m excited for them to see the night sky with absolutely zero light pollution.

I’m also really excited to provide some community outreach. Next fall we’re organizing an HPUniverse Day. It will be open to the public, and provide projects and presentations for kids and adults who are interested in the universe.

What brought you to HPU?

After spending about five minutes with the people here at HPU I knew this is where I wanted to teach. Dr. Aaron Titus, chair of the department of physics, is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and everyone is so positive and here for the right reasons. You can see that in the students too, they’re so curious and involved. I haven’t been here a full year yet, but this department already feels like family.

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