THE  DAVID THOMPSON  PHENOMENON

Out of this world

Earlier we met a David Thompson from history who studied the night sky to help him draw maps of the ground. We now turn our attention to a present-day David Thompson who also studies the galaxies. But he's not trying to understand our own planet; he's hoping to unlock some of the secrets of the Universe itself.

Dr David Thompson is an astrophysicist working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington DC. He studies the data sent back to Earth by EGRET, the Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope, part of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was launched into space in 1991. Pulsars, blazars, gamma-ray bursts and diffuse radiation are all things that he's interested in. He's also helping to build a new gamma-ray telescope.

When he's not doing that, he co-ordinates the Goddard Scientific Colloquia, where leading figures in earth and space science are invited to speak at the Goddard Center on a Friday afternoon. As well as helping to decide who gets invited, he also maintains the Colloquia's website, arranges for flyers to be printed and deals with the occasional complaint about the coffee. I suppose it must make a change from unlocking the secrets of the Universe.

And if you believe that science and religion are always enemies, here's something to think about: Dr Thompson is an active member of his local Baptist church. 'Like many scientists (both believers and nonbelievers) I recognize that science and faith are different approaches to understanding the world. Many aspects of belief, however, can benefit from the methods of analysis, interpretation, and even skepticism that we use in science.'

Imagine the Universe
A profile of Dr David Thompson on the Goddard Center's aspiration-raising site for teenagers

Gooddard Scientific Colloquia
Forthcoming speakers listed on a site maintained by Dr David Thompson