On Friday, Jan. 18, in the Louis Alexander Palestra, the men’s and women’s basketball teams beat New York University. While the players were concentrating on winning the games and the energized spectators were cheering them on, The History Channel was simultaneously taping the game for an episode of “The Universe.”
“The Universe” is a television show that presents a different topic relating to the universe in each episode. The show is typically known for its use of metaphors to illustrate the ideas behind scientific concepts.
The History Channel attended the games because it is taping a special episode on nebulae, and it chose to use the basketball players as metaphors for hot stars and the crowds in the stands as energetic atoms.
The writers and producers of “The Universe” came up with the creative metaphor using the basketball game to show why nebulae grow.
Nebulae are interstellar clouds made of dust, plasma and hydrogen gas. Professor of physics and astronomy and writer for Discover and Astronomy magazines Adam Frank explained the phenomenon.
“[Nebulae] always have a bright star at the center, and the radiation flows outward and hinges on the gas cloud, exciting the gas atoms and making them glow,” he said.
Thus, the players on the basketball team were the bright stars who excited the crowd, causing the people in it to cheer and produce other similar reactions.
Society of Physics Students Vice President and junior Kristin Beck commented on the subject.
“I think it is an interesting metaphor because it will bring things going on physically in nebulae into terms that people will understand,” she said.
UR was chosen to host the filming crew because it is one of the leading research institutes in the world on nebulae. More specifically, our school was chosen because of Frank’s research on nebulae.
Frank joined UR’s staff in 1996. His research mostly has to do with theoretical astrophysics, and he is currently studying planetary nebulae, among other topics. Frank was the main person involved in coordinating the History Channel’s visit to UR.
Members of the Society of Physics Students were asked by Assistant Director of Student Activity Programs liaison Stacey Fisher to act as spectators for the basketball game to help the filming crew.
“We were asked to come, they told us they needed 25 students to help with the documentary on nebulae,” Beck said. “They promised us free T-shirts and pizza for our labors.”
Before the game, the History Channel film crew asked four of the students to behave as representatives of the hydrogen spectrum. The hydrogen spectrum is made up of four distinct colors. As the hydrogen atoms in nebulae heat up and cool down, they lose energy in the form of light.
After this enactment was completed, the 25 students put on their UR T-shirts and gathered around Frank while he was interviewed. The film crew then set up near the court to tape the matches against NYU.
Beck added that she hopes that the episode on the History Channel will get the message of Frank’s life work across to a broader audience.
The episode featuring UR will be aired in April 2008 on the History Channel.
Handis is a member of the class of 2009.