Welcome to our New Faculty Q&A! Today we chat with Manos Chatzopoulos, a new faculty member in the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy. Manos received his Ph.D. in 2013 from the University of Texas at Austin and he came to LSU this year as a theoretical and computational astrophysicist. Read about his exciting research, his interactive teaching methods and his inspirational hobbies below!
LSU College of Science: What was your earliest experience with physics or the study of stars?
Manos: When I was 5 years old my uncle bought me a book titled "I want to know why stars twinkle!" It was a book filled with cartoons aiming to introduce kids to the basics of space science and astronomy. I remember shuffling through the pages and staring at a full-page drawing of a black hole on page 36 (still remember the page number!) A little cartoon scientist was falling into the black hole and text in a bubble quote read, "No one knows what happens to objects falling in a black hole as not even light can escape the enormous gravity of such objects." That question intrigued me from a young age, driving me to be interested in math and science to try to answer it!
LSU College of Science: Tell us a bit about your research. What drew you to this research focus?
Manos: I am using big computers to study the final moments of stars that are tens, sometimes hundreds of times bigger than our sun. These stars end their lives via violent explosions we call supernovae that are so bright they can be observed at really great distances. We are interested in these events because they are nature's laboratories of heavy elements like carbon, oxygen and silicon, all the way up to Uranium. These elements make up the world around us, including life itself.
LSU College of Science: What do you get most excited about in talking about your research to audiences who are not scientists?
Manos: When presenting my work to non-expert audiences I get excited about getting them to understand the enormous collaborative efforts, special equipment and cost going into coordinating cutting-edge research to tackle nature's most challenging questions. People are always impressed by the technology and methods we use to understand something seemingly so normal and standard, like stars in the night sky.
LSU College of Science: What inspires you or keeps you motivated to pursue your research? What are the biggest day-to-day challenges in your field of research?
Manos: One of the most inspiring things about my research is the potential to unlock cosmic mysteries and gain a better understanding of the world surrounding us, as well as the potential to make the always unexpected discoveries coming from basic research that have practical applications in daily life. This, of course, comes with a lot of daily challenges. Some of these include navigating a busy schedule that includes maintaining the balance between educational and teaching responsibilities, mentoring graduate students and coordinating meetings with collaborators all over the world and across time zones. On top of that, there is always the stress of pursuing funding opportunities and applying for grants.
LSU College of Science: What are the biggest unanswered questions in your field of science/research?
Manos: One of the most challenging questions in my field of research is fully understanding the exact physical mechanism that causes some massive stars to explode as supernovae and determine the exact characteristics that drive such explosions. About a decade ago a new and rare category of unprecedentedly luminous supernovae was discovered and the engine the causes these spectacular cosmic catastrophes is still a mystery.
LSU College of Science: What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Manos: I am proud and energized every day to have the opportunity to engage in cutting edge research. But what is really rewarding is sharing my passion and work with the general public and motivating a younger generation of Americans to become the engineers, scientists and explorers of tomorrow.
LSU College of Science: What was your first impression of LSU? What excites you most about being at LSU?
Manos: I moved here shortly before football season and I can't help but notice the amazing vibe this community has for sports! I immediately became a Tiger fan and bought my proper sports attire, and I already enjoyed my first Tailgating experience here.
In terms of academics, I am excited to be in an environment surrounded by like-minded passionate researchers who are willing to learn about your research and collaborate with you. People here are very welcoming and inclusive and that certainly makes for an environment that enhances my motivation for research.
LSU College of Science: Louisiana is known for its food and eclectic culture. What have you enjoyed most about being in Louisiana? What have you enjoyed the least?
Manos: I loved the tailgating and the friendliness of the locals. Of course, needless to say being Greek I do appreciate good cuisine so Louisiana is like home to me in that regard! I also had the opportunity to visit New Orleans one weekend and that was quite a fantastic experience. I felt like this was the most European-like city I have been to in the U.S. and I was impressed by the blend of sounds and food smells coming from all directions while walking down the street. So far I haven't come across anything negative other than that the car mechanics take a long time to repair your vehicle!
LSU College of Science: What courses will you be teaching?
Manos: Starting next (Spring) semester, I will be teaching ASTR 1102 on "Introduction to Stars and Galaxies" where I will be introducing undergraduate students to the basics of stellar astronomy, including properties of stars and galaxies.
LSU College of Science: What is your approach to teaching and what can students expect from your class(es)? What are you most excited about for the classes you'll be teaching?
Manos: I enjoy making my teaching as interactive as possible, including a lot of visuals and in-class demonstrations and, when appropriate, organizing activities to get the students engaged in the discussion. I also occasionally plan to make use of social media to allow in-class communication on topics discussed in class and discussion forums online. I am excited about the possibility of being responsible for motivating at least a small portion of my students to pursue a career in the natural sciences. Nothing would make a teacher more proud than their students shaping the world of tomorrow.
LSU College of Science: Outside of your academic life, what do you like to do for fun? Do you have any hobbies?
Manos: I have a lot of hobbies. In my free time I love entrepreneurship and I have been involved in a couple of small start-up companies with friends. I am one of those basic research scientists who loves to apply their critical thinking and problem solving skills to everyday world problems with the aim of coming up with a tech-enabled solution.
I would say that traveling is one of my favorite things and, being Greek, nothing can beat vacations by the water. I still travel back once a year to visit family and spend as much time in the water as possible! I also love music and back in the day I even DJed a couple of times and learned how to synthesize my own techno. Those days are gone, but I still enjoy EDM concerts when the opportunity arises. Oh, and I also love grilling. Back in Texas during my grad school years, I learned how to do the famous slow-smoked Texas BBQ Brisket!
LSU College of Science: Sounds delicious! What else do you want people to know about you?
Manos: I am proud to now be part of the LSU community and I am committed to utilizing the resources made available here to better understand our cosmos. But I am also passionate about distributing my knowledge in my field with anyone who wishes to know. My door is always open for you!
LSU College of Science: Are you on social media? Where can we keep up with you?
Manos: Sure, I have a science Facebook page.