Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable Spring 2022 graduates.
Liam Nolan has known for most of his life that the most interesting thing he could think of to study was the stars and space. In first year at Camp SESE he knew at what moment in his gut he had made the right choice of what to do with his life.
The sky was more beautiful than anything he had ever seen before, and a shooting star or satellite passed by no less than every five minutes. Then, there was a flickering red light just out of his field of vision. He sat down and two of the teachers danced the fire. Applause rippled through the group of excited freshmen!
“I was smiling more widely than before in my life,” Nolan said. “Astronomers are really cool.”
This spring 2022, Nolan will graduate from the School of Earth and Space Exploration with a Bachelor of Science in Earth and Space Exploration (Astrophysics), a degree in Physics from Barrett, The Honors College and a minor in French.
Nolan chose to attend ASU because it is unique among undergraduate institutions for its excellence in astronomy and its commitment to interdisciplinary studies. This allowed him to join Professor Rogier Windhorst’s research group and complete a former graduate student’s work on an educational tool called “Appreciating Hubble at Hyperspeed” (AHaH), which became his first published committee paper. reading.
“Liam Nolan was an excellent undergraduate student at ASU. As part of my AST 322 Cosmology course, he wrote an excellent semester project on our Java tool “AHaH” which allows a student to browse the multicolored Hubble UltraDeep Field images of the near universe at redshifts of six, when the universe was less than a billion years old,” said Rogier Windhorst, Professor Regents. “The following year, Liam was a great TA for the AST 322 course, where he had students use the AHaH tool in class. Liam posted a nice article on the AHaH project which appeared as Nolan \et al\ 2021, Astronomy Education Journal, Vol 1, pp 12–23 We are truly fortunate to have students at ASU like Liam Nolan.
After graduating, Nolan will travel to the Midwest this fall where he will begin graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in its astronomy department.
“I am very excited to continue my PhD there, where I will work on transients – astronomical systems that change over short periods of time,” Nolan said.
He answered a few questions about his time here at ASU.
Question: What did you learn at ASU – in class or otherwise – that surprised you or changed your perspective?
To respond: I took a course on radical pedagogy as part of my honor credits when it was all over Zoom. It was a very small group – I think nine students and three teachers – and the class had never been taught before. The class was run entirely cooperatively – each student had an equal voice with each teacher. Of course, some direction came from professors on what kind of readings we focused on, but never before and never in my academic career so far have I felt so empowered to help decide the direction of style. The readings and discussions that followed this semester fundamentally reversed my conception of pedagogy (how and why we teach the way we do) and made me realize that some of the frustrations of the “standard” educational system need not to be as they are. I hope to continue the practice of this class in my future educational work.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Three reasons. First, I was excited about the program when I visited and spoke to the teachers, and I was not disappointed. Second, ASU is one of the few public schools to fund National Merit Scholars, which I was lucky enough to be. This made my undergraduate education much more affordable than many schools in Virginia, allowing me to focus on my studies and allowing me to be more selective in the employment I pursued during my studies. Third and finally, I was excited to move to a place that would be my own – I had lived with my family in Virginia all my life until I went to college, and I was excited about it. opportunity to chart my own path.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson at ASU?
A: SESE Professor Rogier Windhorst taught me more than I can count, but the most valuable lesson was simply the importance of ‘showing off’. I contacted him during my freshman year, interested in talking about research, and immediately he invited me to research meetings in his group, where many people began to suggest small tasks that I could do to develop my skills. and my confidence. After expressing my interest in public outreach, Rogier appointed me as Outreach Coordinator for his group. In addition, I did two years of work in the ASU/NASA Space Grant and then a thesis with Rolf Jansen in Rogier’s group. This all happened because I took the leap of asking a professor if I could get involved, and Rogier showed me that there are professors at ASU who will catch you.
Q: What is the best advice you would give to those still in school?
A: Well, this is sort of a derivative of my previous answer, but talk to the teachers! They’re not here to get you, most of them are really nice. If you are interested in research, ask them about their research! If you love art, check out their work! But really, even if you don’t want to work with professors, it makes your classroom life so much easier when you’re more than just a name on the professor’s notebook.
Q: Where was your favorite place on campus, whether to study, meet friends or just think about life?
A: I don’t go there as often as I would like, but I really like the secret garden. It’s really pretty, a nice little oasis on campus that stays pretty quiet most of the time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask an upperclassman – it’s tradition not to tell someone where they are, you have to show them. For somewhere more easily accessible, I really, really like the Crepe Club outside the science buildings, and I’ve eaten there far too often this semester.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve a problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: While I would of course need to educate myself better on how best to allocate money to global issues, my spontaneous response would be to reduce anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and harassment. I’ve always felt most comfortable in the queer spaces I’ve found myself in, and while great strides have been made in recent years, there have been some frightening setbacks lately that put people that I love in danger. Everyone has the right to love whoever they want to love and to be the person they see themselves. To that end, the first direct actions I can think of are helping to provide consistently denied health care to LGBTQ+ people, such as gender-affirming care, mental health support, and other resources. I hope to be able to help move these issues forward for the rest of my career.