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20 Under 30: Brian Hart

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Brian Hart is an astrophysicist working towards his PhD at UC Irvine. He's also deeply committed to sharing his enthusiasm for the world around us. After attending a conference about PBS's "Nova ScienceNOW" series in 2004, Brian decided to launch the Southern California branch of the Science Cafe, which is part of an international network of science education discussion groups that have sprouted up in cafes all over the world (the first one started in the United Kingdom). These informal events bring scientists and lay people together, with the aid of popular social lubricants such as coffee or beer, to discuss scientific ideas and developments impacting the lives of everyone . Some groups have even attracted corporate sponsorships and support from scientific research societies such as Sigma Xi.

Brian established the Southern California Science Cafe as a roving discussion group that meets in various cafes and public spaces all over the Southland. So far, the SoCal Science Cafe has attracted a core group of 185 members from all over SoCal.

Age and Occupation:
26, Astrophysicist

How long have you lived in Orange County/Southern California, and which neighborhood do you live in?

4 years; Irvine

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Why do you live here?
The weather, definitely. I am from Minnesota originally -- can say "yah ya betcha" with the rest of them -- and got a little tired of the snow.

Why did you enter your field of study?
Ever since I was 10 years old I have been in awe of the mysteries of space.

What do you hope to accomplish with your PhD?
I’d like to figure out the answers to the questions of existence, by studying the structure and evolution of the Universe.

How does living in Los Angeles and Southern California inform your research?
What kinds of resources/facilities/feedback can you get here rather than in another region? Living in Southern California is like none other when you're an astronomer. With access to the Keck Telescopes at Hawaii, Palomar, and access to NASA research with the Chandra X-Ray Telescope (an orbiting satellite), and also to the great schools and institutions like Caltech, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Stanford, as well as the many national research laboratories in the Southwest, such as Livermore and Los Alamos, California can't be beat.

What's the freakiest thing you've seen through your telescope?
A cluster of galaxies 9 million light-years across, and with 1,000 galaxies all bound up by gravity. That means if you stand on one side of it, and shine a flashlight at the other side, you have to wait 9 million years for the beam to get to the other side. Do you know of anything that's that big?

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Why did you start the Southern California Science Cafe?
I think science is neat and cool, and so I want to help people see science through my eyes...and I know that most everyone has some basic curiosity about the world and the universe. Everyone expresses their curiosity in different ways. In addition, PBS is starting a new series, called "NOVA scienceNOW," which is like "NOVA" meets "60 Minutes" meets the 'Evening News." They serve science up in small, easy-to-digest pieces. So it makes it easy to use these clips to spark interesting discussions and debates.

Science Café is an outreach program like none other...and I had a feeling that SoCal'ers definitely are curious about the science behind current events...but they don't want to bother to go to the museum or university lecture hall...and so at Science Café, we rotate around to different venues all over SoCal to bring science to the public in a comfortable, Café setting, and in plain English that makes sense. And I pick topics that are in the news, like Hurricane Katrina or high gas prices.

Science Café is an international phenomenon. There is a network of Cafés in 34 other U.S. cities and regions, plus more Cafés around the world. Originally known as "Café Scientifique," Science Café is built on the old French sidewalk-Café philosophy outreach program, "Café Philosophique."

Does it conform to your vision? What surprised you about its current incarnation?
On the whole it conforms to the vision, although what has surprised me is how new Science Café -- a 'traveling public outreach program' -- really is, and how I have to take a different tack to holding events and promoting them
given that the venue bounces all over SoCal each time.

What kind of participants do you attract?
All kinds. We've had conservative Christians and liberal Atheists come to a Science Café on Stem Cells we held last September 2005...we had all ages, from older folks to high school students -- come for a Science Café on hurricanes last October...to Stay-at-Home Moms and their 6-year olds to a Science Café on Dinosaurs last April.

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What are some upcoming events?
On Saturday, June 24, at 3:00 PM we've planned a panel featuring "Cancer Nanotech and Women in Science." Female scientists from UCI, UCLA and Caltech join this panel to discuss career issues for women in science as well as sharing information about their research. Dr. Naomi Halas of Rice University will discuss her work developing gold nanospheres...you inject these into tumors and heat them up with a special laser beam shot into the patient (harmless to the patient) to destroy the tumor locally. Dr. David Lemberg of Science & Society will discuss nanotech. The event is free, and located at the Borders Bookstore on Lake St in Pasadena.

On Tuesday, July 18 at 7:00 PM, readers can join us in Anaheim to hear Dr. Manoj Kaplinghat of UCI talk at "Wine, Dinner, and Demystifying Dark Matter". Foks can come first for dinner or attend the lecture at 8 PM.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in Orange Count/Southern California?
The O.C...and also the "Xtreme Sports" series on ESPN..when they featuring surfing at Huntington Beach. I also like "The One" with Jet Li. And, of course, the "Terminator" series.

What's the best place to walk in Irvine/Orange County?
In Corona Del Mar, right on the sidewalk overlooking the beach near the intersection of Margaruite and the PCH...also the Main Beach at Laguna Beach, at PCH and Broadway.

What is the "center" of Irvine/Orange County to you?
The Block at Orange/Crystal Cathedral/Disneyland area is where I would say is the most centrally-located area...seems to be where most of the action is at.

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If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in Irvine/SoCal, where/which would you choose?
Somewhere in Pasadena or Arcadia.

People stereotype Southern California as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
It's easy to make friends if you get out and have a life. I agree with the assessment above only in that people are really picky about their friends. But I am always out and about.

What is the area's greatest secret?
There's something for everyone, sometimes under our very noses. But I find that people keep themselves so busy that it's easy to miss out. California is just not what the country makes us out to be...a bunch of surfer dudes
who have gotten too much sun. It's a whole mix of people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and cultures.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

The beach. For a good view.

If you could make one thing be different in Southern California/Irvine for your 30th birthday, what would you change?
Nothing. SoCal is perfect the way it is.