Btown’s Brilliant Minds

IU Bloomington chemist Erin Carlson is featured in the new Brilliant Minds video series showcasing faculty research and creative activity.

IU Bloomington chemist Erin Carlson is featured in the new Brilliant Minds video series showcasing faculty research and creative activity.

Yesterday, my six-year-old daughter, Veronica, came rushing into the kitchen to excitedly tell me a story she’d heard from one of her teachers at school. The story was about Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician, and the golden crown. Some readers of this blog might know the high points: a crown made for a king; a dishonest goldsmith accused of swapping some silver for gold in making the crown; Archimedes taking a bath, noticing how the water level in the tub rose when he got in and figuring he could use this effect to determine the volume of the crown and whether silver had indeed been used (it had!); and, finally, the mathematician running through the streets naked (my daughter’s favorite part!), so excited by his discovery he had forgotten to put on his clothes, calling “Eureka!”

Listening to my daughter happily tell the story of “Archimedes’ principle,” I was reminded of the pure joy that learning can bring a child and, yes, even a 40-year-old adult.

Truth be told, I didn’t know the Archimedes story. (As a student, I wasn’t much for math, though I did love Greek history.) My daughter’s telling of this anecdote sparked in me a desire to learn more about Archimedes, the veracity of the gold-crown story and his other discoveries and inventions.

Here at IU Bloomington and in the surrounding community, we are surrounded by fascinating people who are deeply engaged, on a daily basis, in learning and discovery. During the almost 15 years that I’ve lived in Btown, I’ve met countless individuals, as part of my job in the IU News Room, but just as much standing in line at the Bloomington Bagel Company, who devote hours of their lives to academic and creative pursuits that satisfy their thirst for knowledge and, in turn, make this such a vibrant academic and cultural community.

More often than not, their discoveries have an impact beyond Btown’s borders. Take Erin Carlson, for example. An assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, Carlson is researching how natural sources might be used to treat life-threatening diseases.

Carlson is showcased in a new video series, produced by IU Communications for the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, that highlights some of the fascinating research and creative activities taking place on the IU Bloomington campus. The Brilliant Minds series reflects the eclectic nature of faculty research in Btown. To this end, the first three videos focus on an anthropologist who studies stand-up comics in Middle America, an artist who uses natural materials and historical processes to create textile-based installations and, in the most recent episode, Carlson, a recipient of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty. (Carlson was also recently profiled in an NBC News “Science Behind the News” feature on drug-resistant bacteria.)

In the Brilliant Minds video, Carlson discusses her interest in expanding science education for young women and girls. “It’s really great to see excitement in young students,” she says. “For me, that’s why I chose to be a professor where I get to mentor graduate students. Because I really get to see the light come on, albeit at a different stage in their career, and I find that very exciting.”

As a father of a first-grade girl who’s as excited about Archimedes as she is about Pokemon, all I can say to that is, Eureka!

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