Choosing the Stars Over the Stock Exchange

Robert Kirshner hopes he can convince some of tomorrow’s Wall Street bankers to become astronomers instead.
  • Transcript


Question: What made you decide to become a physicist? 

Robert Kirshner: Well, when I was in high school, I grew up in suburban Boston out in Sudbury, and it was a good high school. I was good at math and I was good in science. I had a neighbor who had a telescope and he had a little trouble setting it up, and so he asked if I wanted to help him do that. And we figured out how to point the axle at the North Pole and how to do all those things. And it was kind of exciting to look through a telescope and see things. What I did not understand at that point was there was actually something to do. It wasn’t just about seeing them and just about kind of knowing or looking at a natural history book, that you really could understand what those objects were. That didn’t come to me for a while until I was in high school and I remember reading books; reading books that Fred Hoyle had written; reading books that George Gamoff had written. You know popular science books that tried to bring you up to speed on what scientists were thinking. And that really got me going. That really got me going. 

So, when I got to college, I came here to Harvard, as a freshman, I took a freshman seminar that was about astronomy and I’ve never really looked back. And I’d written a book. So, you know, maybe some kid will read it and would have made a perfectly good investment banker but goes astray and becomes an astronomer.

Recorded on February 17, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen