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Time Traveler

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Michelle Thaller is awake to the present. And you know this if you’ve seen any of her videos. Michelle is engaged – like all great scientists – in everything around her, in what’s happening right now.

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But she’s also a time traveler.

During our interview, Michelle explained:

“In so many ways, modern science makes you think differently about time. On a basic level, Einstein said that time and space are the same thing, which is not how we experience it. But somehow as a physicist, I feel very connected to events both in the past and in the future. We’re all sort of on this landscape of time that Einstein described.”

So sure Michelle’s connected to the past. How much more obvious could it be? She puts on 30 pounds of Elizabethan costuming so she can do Renaissance dances from hundreds of years ago. But when she’s doing her science, it has to be a different story, right? She’s an astronomer – it’s all about the brave new world of the future. The fact is, though, that Michelle often travels to the very same time period… in both her science and her secret life:

Time Traveler-michelle_gets_kissed.jpg
Time travelers need love too, right?

“So, I’m interested in the past, I’m interested in the far future. And somehow as a scientist, these things are very connected. And then there’s also something even more obvious that can be easy to overlook. When you look at things out in space, you see things as they were long ago. And some of the stars in the night’s sky that you’ll see tonight are on the order of 4- or 500 light years away.”

And what does that mean?

“Some of the light that you’re catching in your eye tonight left it’s point of origin – a star – when Queen Elizabeth I was still on the throne.”

Looking through a telescope.

Recreating dances from hundreds of years ago.

Our time traveler Michelle sees the same light when she does both of these things.

And it’s beautiful.