Student Organization of the Week: Astronomy Club

Former Astronomy Club President and College senior Anthony Ruda chose to study physics at Columbia University rather than graduate with the rest of his class this coming May. Ruda will receive a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin and a Bachelor of Science from Columbia in 2013 upon his graduation from Columbia. Multitalented Ruda caught up with the Review for a discussion on the Astronomy Club and humanity’s existence after Earth.

Erin Amlicke

What exact field of science are you majoring in, and what are you studying at Columbia? My major officially is applied mathematics. However, I’m specializing in mathematics and physics. At Columbia, I’m studying essentially the mathematics of physics. What are your plans following your time at Columbia?

My next move will be to apply to grad school, and I would like to get into a field called cosmology, which ties my interest of empirical physics and astronomy together. Cosmology is really a branch of astronomy that deals with large-scale structure and formation of the universe.

Tell me a little about the Astronomy Club. What activities does the club focus on?

Our chief activity would be training Oberlin students to use the campus observatory. There are a number of telescopes at the Astronomy Club members’ disposal, so we have maybe four telescopes that students can use. Which is really a unique opportunity — I haven’t heard of any other liberal arts school or university where students get an opportunity like that.

Who comprises the Astronomy Club? Is it primarily science majors like yourself, or does it tend to draw a variety of students?

Well, let’s see, last year we had something like 400 names on our mailing list.


Yeah, we attract everyone, so I highly doubt we are all science people. In fact, I know that we are not.

I read your biography on the World Institute for Sustainability and Education website and it said that you have an interest in both philosophy and astronomy, which I thought was an interesting combination.

Well, yeah, I earned a minor in philosophy while I was at Oberlin.

Do you see a tie between the two fields? Because I do think that there is a fascinating overlap there.

Oh, absolutely! Astronomy is definitely philosophical in nature. Through astronomy, we are able to ask very fundamental questions about our existence, for one, the existence of the universe and how human life or life itself came to take place in the universe.

Has your knowledge of the universe and astronomy affected your outlook on Earth and modern society?

You know, I have to say yes. If one studies astronomy, you definitely gain a larger perspective about what it means to be living on the planet Earth and [in] the Milky Way galaxy. To actually comprehend the universe is a gift in many ways. I’ll share a quotation from Einstein. He said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” So I kind of take that to heart.

This summer, there were a lot of budget cuts made on NASA. If you were defending astronomical research to the country or Congress, how would you do so?

I think a lot of people view this particular field as insignificant because it has little immediate effect on our lives.

How would you defend astronomy, and cosmology, which is what you are interested in to them?

Let’s put it this way: If life on Earth is to continue indefinitely, we will have to move beyond Earth. Life on Earth is not forever. In fact, Earth is only capable of supporting life for the next billion years, which of course sounds like a ridiculously long time, but it isn’t from an astronomical perspective. Beyond that, I would probably say, look at these Hubble Telescope images. I mean, if you can appreciate that, then I think you would have to see how beautiful celestial bodies can be. And if you can divert your eyes from Earth and look beyond, you really would be surprised with what you find.