Professor Spotlight: Dr. Casey Watson

Emily Chudzik, News Editor

From a young age, astronomy and physics professor Dr. Casey Watson has always loved science.

“Since I was very little, I’ve always enjoyed astrophysics, astronomy, anything to do with space. I enjoy other sciences, but from [age] seven and on, I was all about space. It was my favorite thing to think about, read about and learn about,” Watson said.

Watson has also enjoyed the thought of teaching since he was young. Both of his parents and grandparents were teachers, and one of his uncles was a professor at Brown University.

“Being around adults who would answer questions ‘why’ and were patient [influenced me],” Watson said. “If I could explain something to someone that they didn’t understand before, and they felt the joy of learning, I would feel that joy, too. I’ve always liked that.” He has been teaching at Millikin since the fall of 2006.

Recently, Dr. Watson contributed to a story by WAND News on solar storms and their potential impact on the Earth. “A WAND meteorologist asked if I’d do an interview about space weather and how it affects the atmosphere, satellites, and electronics,” Watson said.

“In 1989, there was a massive solar flare that hit the atmosphere and blacked out an entire province of Canada. It is a matter of interest to monitor the sun’s activity. [It would be beneficial] if we could have a heads up if something like that were to happen again.”

Watson’s proudest accomplishment is his recent work in the subject of dark matter. He has worked with nine students in the last three years on various research projects. He has been invited to an international astrophysics conference in Paris for three consecutive years, and this past fall he was invited to Korea to present his work on dark matter.

“I’m very proud of the international attention that’s been received. It is a big honor to be invited to Korea [this past fall] and Paris for three years,” Watson said. “I’ve always loved to travel. It was a lot of fun to meet experts from around the world and talk about my work.”

Watson and his students have attended American Physical Society conferences in Baltimore, Md., Atlanta, Ga., and Savannah, Ga. The national meetings had thousands of physicists there. The students presented at these conferences, as well as at Millikin’s Celebration of Scholarship.

“Research is important,” Watson said. “I give my students a lot of experience with that.”

He said that going to the conferences and spending time with students outside of the classroom is fun. “Watching them present research with confidence, and talking to experts in the field and impressing them with their knowledge is rewarding. It’s rewarding to see them come into their own as researchers.”

Dr. Watson is in the process of creating a new immersion course about Galileo. It would be offered as an immersion course at the Centro Studi Italiani Language School in Urbania, Italy for four weeks in June.

It could be counted as either a lab science or an IN 350. The class would focus on the social and political obstacles that Galileo faced when trying to discuss his findings openly.

“I came up with this idea two years ago, and each year we get closer and closer to having enough people. It’s a well-developed course, but it’s expensive. We can’t seem to get over the financial hump,” Watson said.

There are scholarships to apply for that can help alleviate some of the financial stress of studying abroad. Watson said that once enough students are signed up, the course can finally become a reality.

Watson said, “There is so much to see there, so much to look at. The school is up on a mesa, so it’s perfect for astronomy. There is low light pollution, and we can easily reproduce some of Galileo’s classic experiments.”

This course would not only be a great experience for students, but for locals as well. “I would love to host star parties for the locals. A lot of them haven’t seen them through a nice telescope, so it would be fun to let them enjoy our equipment.”

For more information on the immersion course, contact Dr. Casey Watson or Andy Heise, Associate Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship.