Prof. Colin Norman delivers graduation speech at The University of Melbourne
Colin Norman is an astrophysicist interested in twin approaches to his chosen field of astronomy and astrophysics: (1) Traditional detailed mathematical physics- based descriptions of astronomical phenomena and (2) Large Space projects where frontier technology meets the rigors of space based projects. Truly fundamental progress has been made in the field using both these approaches over the last decades.
Colin’s interests are listed in the short form CV below and the link to his publications is also given. He has many outstanding collaborators spread over the globe whom - he acknowledges with gratitude - greatly enhance his thinking. Their names are in the publications link below.
Dr. Norman was educated at Melbourne University for undergraduate studies and at Oxford for his D.Phil. He has held appointments at Oxford, Cambridge, Leiden, Munich, Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute. He has held many fellowships and visiting appointments at major centres in astrophysics, these are listed in the attached short CV.
Prof. Norman is most happy at work while discussing fundamental problems in astronomy and astrophysics with brilliant young grad students and postdoctoral fellows (and faculty colleagues!) who come into his office with interesting questions.
Colin Norman’s family and friends are his main interest outside astrophysics but he also enjoys cycling in the country, surfing and windsurfing, walking and jogging (formerly running!), playing golf (badly!), playing Bach keyboard music and attending good opera.
Courses Taught Recently
- Planets, Life and the Universe
- Dynamics of Galaxies
- Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
- Radiative Processes
- Stellar Structure and Evolution
- Numerical Methods
- Mathematics for Physicists
Planets Life and the Universe Co-lecturers
- H. Weaver
- J. Silk
- S. Lubow
- C. Chen
- S. Stanley
- D. Strobel
- R. Gupta
- H. Wakeford
- K. Lewis
- E. Smith
- C. He
- X. Yu
- S. Horst
- J. DiRuggiero
- C. Norman
Speech to Graduates DSc(Hon. Causa; Melbourne)
"Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Dean, Distinguished Faculty, Graduating Students, Parents and Friends
Since I received my undergraduate degree here 49 years ago, many of the discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics have entered the culture.
We know there was a definite beginning to our universe about fourteen billion years ago. We know everything is evolving, from the universe itself, its stars, its galaxies, all the way to the intricate evolution of the domain of life.
Additionally, we know the matter and energy constituting the universe is predominantly made up of dark matter and dark energy and its nature is consequently unknown. Only about 5% of all matter is observable to us with existing telescopes.
Astonishingly, all massive galaxies have central black holes - singularities in the fabric of space and time - and the influence of these tiny, but massive, objects on the structure of the galaxies themselves is profound. Black holes on even smaller scales have been now observed to merge, leading to brilliant measurements of the associated gravitational wave signals.
The younger generation are intensely focused on habitable earth-like planets orbiting around other stars. Based on discoveries made since this graduating class was born, we project that every star in the universe has at least a 1-10% chance of harboring a potentially habitable earth-like planet.
The advances during this so-called golden age of astronomy and astrophysics are increasingly rapid and the spread of knowledge into the broad cultural awareness is also speedy.
There are three obvious cultural perspectives here: (1) we may well be able to find other habitable planets to occupy over the long reaches of time that our human civilization may survive, (2) we may well not be alone and unique, and (3) the more we study Earth and other exoplanets the more we are aware of huge changes of planet climate, planet surface, planet oceans. In fact, what we call “global warming” is a relatively small change for our planet Earth but we do need to get though it to continue the adventure of our human species, and I am optimistic that our human genius for survival will prevail.
Returning now to education for a moment. The true measure of any great society - such as we have here in Melbourne - is how it educates its youth. The great teaching ethos here at Melbourne continues to be superb. My only regret is that it is not still free to all who merit admission as it was in those postwar years where the hope of our society lay in educating the next generation - across all strata - to do better.
You graduate from this great university as well educated as any similar group on the planet. Be confident that you can achieve wonderful things. It used to be traditional at Melbourne to enter the professions of law, engineering, medicine, business etc. Fifty years ago there were less adventurous options. In this great multicultural affluent highly-educated society in Melbourne (and other global centers) you can afford to take risks and explore fascinating and adventurous career paths over a lifetime.
When things go well in life - for example, in space missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope and in science and technical research in general - it is all sunshine.
This is not always so. Character is needed to survive the inevitable setbacks and even catastrophes.
Always keep the balanced perspective and try to remember there are times for victories and at other times there are defeats and these are important and expected markers in one’s life.
What’s most important is to understand and remember and be grateful for the very real and fundamentally important inspiration and loyal support of family, friends and colleagues in this great life adventure. Do not imagine you can, or should, “go it alone”.
Congratulations to you on your graduation and best wishes and good luck to you in your future great endeavors.