Daniel Wolf Savin likes to joke that his astrophysics lab at Columbia University, which researches the birth of stars, should be called the “Genesis Lab.” “If you read Genesis, that’s chapter one, verse three: ‘And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ ” Savin said with a wry smile.
The energetic astrophysicist is as slender as a Giacometti sculpture with an artistic temperament (he plays stand-up bass in classical music and jazz groups) to match his exacting physics. He stopped by the Nautilus office to talk about his essay, “Before There Were Stars,” in this week’s chapter. His essay illuminates “the grandest merger story that there is,” the chemical dance and fusion of elements that formed our universe.
A keen and patient explainer, Savin told us how stars first formed and how our own favorite star, the sun, which Savin calls “a rather average star,” generates the light and heat that gives us life, and stirs up the dangerous solar winds that interact with Earth. Savin also informed us about one of his own favorite acts of physics, or bodies in motion, a form of modern dance he once practiced called “contact improvisation.”
You call the universe the “grandest merger.” When did it begin?
What does star formation teach us about the universe?
How do you investigate star formation?
What’s your key breakthrough in star research?
What is solar wind?
So what drives solar wind?
What’s the most practical application of astrophysics?
After you figure out stars, what’s next?
What led you to astrophysics?
What would you do if you weren’t a scientist?
You’re also a musician. What instrument do you play?
How do music and physics intersect in your life?