Dr. Todd Young

Host of Science Around Us

Dr. Todd Young hails from Minnesota and received his undergraduate degree in Physics & English from the University of Minnesota – Morris, his Master’s degree in Physics from Purdue University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in Astrophysics.  He has worked at Wayne State College since receiving his doctorate in 1998 and is currently a full professor of physics and astronomy.  He teaches a variety of courses at Wayne State College, including university physics, astronomy, general education science, and astrophysics.  

In 2008, he became the director of the Fred G. Dale Planetarium, which has been a passion since that appointment.  The planetarium is currently one of the most technologically advanced and educationally versatile in the state, and was recent noted by the Omaha World Herald as one of the top 50 places to visit in Nebraska.  He has provided over a thousand of planetarium shows and astronomy lessons to tens of thousands of people over the years.  In 2010, he brought the Nebraska Science Bowl competitions to Wayne State College to help make sure that opportunities like the science bowl continue in order attract young people to science and mathematics; and as Todd is both a fan of trivia contests and a "certified" science nerd, it was a perfect fit.  He is currently the coordinator of the Rural Health Opportunities Program which guides students from rural Nebraska to a career as a health provider, like doctor, dentist, pharmacist, and nurse, in order to return to serve rural Nebraska.  This program has been a collaborative effort with the University of Nebraska Medical Center since 1990.  He also continues to be active with the Nebraska Junior Academy of Science - Northeast Regional competition, including being the lead coordinator of the event for a few years.

In 2008 he received the George Rebensdorf Teaching Excellence Award for the Nebraska State College System.  In the supporting materials for his nomination, it was noted that Dr. Young "constantly stresses the importance of physics as a tool for learning about the world around us" and continuously explores and investigates methods to better educate his students.  He also receives great reviews from his students regarding the rigor of his classes and his commitment to their success.

His scholarship and research interests include astronomy education, contributing content to numerous astronomy textbooks, RR Lyrae variable stars and the instability strip, and interactive astronomy lessons in the planetarium.  He also loves to bring physics and astronomy to the community with annual star parties and other similar events.  In his spare time he enjoys crosswords puzzles, watching movies, reading good science fiction, playing board games with his family, and, of course, observing the night sky.  He lives in Concord, Nebraska with his wife of 15 years Jamie, sons Carlyle and Dean, and daughter Josalynn.

I would like to propose a thought experiment: Imagine a box that when closed, there is no interaction between the inside and the outside world. You can't hear, see or feel anything that may be put into the box. Now attach a vile of poisonous gas to the box, which in turn is attached to a triggering device that has a 50% chance of releasing the poison gas. Now let's place a cat into the box, and let's close the box and activate the experiment. After a certain amount of time, we know that the poisonous gas released and the cat is dead, or none of that happened and the cat is alive.

On January 28th, 1986, the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, and on February 1st, 2003 the space shuttle "Columbia" broke apart upon reentry. In both disasters, all hands were lost. For the "Challenger," it was determined that the O-ring seals in the right solid rocket booster failed in the cold temperatures on the day of the launch. This caused the booster to rupture and explode, taking the lives of seven astronauts, including the first teacher astronaut Christa McAuliffe.

At the airport this past summer, I overheard a young child ask his mother a wonderfully inquisitive question: "Why can't we just fly the plane into space? And then we can see the stars and the moon, right?" The Mother, to her credit, gave a correct although short answer: "Planes aren't built for that, honey."

Our Lucky Moon

Nov 2, 2017

At some point perhaps tonight, perhaps later. We will look up and glance at the moon with indifference. We've seen it a million times before, I mean it's just a hunk of rock very much like our own Earth rock that does happen to have footprints of humans on it. So what? But if there was no moon, ever. What would be different? To start, if we didn't have a moon none of us would probably be here right now. Is that dramatic enough for you?

The Sun

Oct 25, 2017

The Sun has been observed and worshipped throughout much of human history. One of the first known monuments to the Sun was built in Newgrange, Ireland more than 5,000 years ago. One of the first Sun gods was Shamash of Babylonia, who was the all-seeing, all-knowing eye of justice. Later, the Egyptians believed that the Sun was the god Ra, who would sail across the sky by day in a boat.

Does E.T. Exist?

Oct 12, 2017

During breaks while working on the construction of the first atomic bomb in 1943, Enrico Fermi and his colleagues talked of many things.  One of which was alien intelligence. 

The Milky Way galaxy that we live in is easily large enough to house millions of civilizations and is certainly old enough (about 13.5 billion years old) so that one of them should have colonized the galaxy by now, so Enrico asked, “Where are they?”  This questions is now known as the Fermi Paradox. 

Don Davis

Let’s talk about the possibilities of collisions with the Earth.

Actually, our Earth is being hit all the time by cosmic dust and meteors. More often than not, these will fall into the atmosphere and burn up, producing a streak of light in the sky we call a “shooting star.”  But sometimes the chunks are big enough so that part of the original chunk gets through the atmosphere.  Anywhere between 5 – 300 metric tons of dust and meteors strike the Earth per day!