Dr. David Spergel

Dr. Spergel is the Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation at Princeton University. He was the 2014-2015 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar.

During the first four weeks of January 2015, upper school students and faculty were star struck, of the deep space kind, that is. Dr. David Spergel of Princeton University joined the TAS faculty as the 2014-2015 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar and took our students on a cosmic journey into theoretical astrophysics.

Dr. Spergel is a Professor and the Department Chair of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University, and the Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation. Named one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential space scientists, Dr. Spergel has received a host of accolades and titles: the Shaw Prize, the Gruber Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, Science Citation Laureate, and more. While at TAS, he sparked discussions about cosmic concepts, such as how the universe was formed, how the universe behaves, and our place in the universe.

Dr. Spergel taught sections of modern physics and astronomy as well as biology. In the physics course, he covered exoplanets and how they are discovered, how telescopes work, and cosmology, with a focus on dark energy, dark matter, and the cosmic microwave background. In the biology classes, he covered astrobiology, or the science of life on other planets. Dr. Spergel said “It was a nice opportunity to talk about the basics of biochemistry and evolution at a very high level.” It led to interesting discussions with students about the generic processes that take place on earth.

Our students made a strong impression on Dr. Spergel. He said, “The students are bright; stronger students here are very comparable to students at Princeton.” He commented that TAS students were more engaged and asked more questions than some local university students in Taiwan.

Faculty and students were equally impressed with Dr. Spergel. David Iverson, Chair of the Upper School Science Department, said,

“Our TAS community was very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with an enthusiastic, articulate, and profound scientist who is on the forefront of unraveling the mysteries of the universe.”

Upper school student Claude S. reflected, “It is incredible to have someone of his caliber come share his passion with us… His approachability, expertise, passion, and humor ensured that we were able to delve with him into the everexpanding (literally) universe of astronomy.” Dr. Spergel clearly reached many students on a “galactic” level in each of his classes.

That reach became “intergalactic” when he presented his research to the entire upper school community. As a theoretical physicist, Dr. Spergel's research has focused on understanding the properties of the universe. He shared his work with the WMAP Satellite, which has had enormous impact on cosmological scientific papers, and his search for planets around nearby stars. His work has fundamentally shaped how the scientific community thinks about the shape of the universe.

Dr. Spergel’s visit to Taipei was not unaccompanied; his daughter, accepted early action to Princeton, enrolled in classes at TAS for one month. Dr. Spergel and his family were able to spend some time exploring Taiwan before he joined the faculty at the start of January.