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Pran Nath, Northeastern’s longest-tenured professor, pursues the beautiful mysteries of physics

Pran Nath has a humble way of demystifying the secrets of the universe.

“What fascinates me about physics is not just that it is the source of all sciences,” says Nath, the Matthews Distinguished University Professor in physics at Northeastern. “It’s that we understand so little of it when it comes to the big physics question: Why does the universe exist? Of course we know sufficient physics to be able to do the everyday tasks — build bridges, buildings, make cars and electrical appliances and now even microchips.

“But the deeper you dig, the more beautiful physics gets — more intricate and more fascinating,” says Nath, who has lived in the U.S. since emigrating from his native India as a young graduate student. “And with that depth, you open up a vast new unknown and you begin to realize that you understand even less of the whole picture.”

Read more from NGN Magazine.

Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

July 12, 2024

Why did Beryl develop into a record-setting hurricane? High ocean temps and other factors are to blame, Northeastern expert says

A historic hurricane is rapidly making its way through the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico.

Beryl turned into a Category 5 hurricane Monday night and is expected to strike Jamaica on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Service Center.

The early-season hurricane will likely bring heavy rainfall and flash flooding to the island as well as strong winds capable of causing devastating to catastrophic damage and loss of life.

“The peak [of the hurricane] season usually occurs in late August and September,” says Jim Chen, Northeastern University professor of civil and environmental engineering and marine and environmental sciences.

Read more from Northeastern Global News.

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

July 02, 2024

Summer Youth Employment Program connects high school students with jobs, academic advancement

It’s the classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario: how do you get employment experience without a job, and how do you get a job without employment experience?

“You get it through the Summer Youth Employment Program,” Alicia Modestino, an associate professor of economics in Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, said in welcoming the program participants to the university’s Boston campus on Tuesday.

Read more from Northeastern Global News.

Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

July 02, 2024

Can we make ‘citizen science’ better?

During a stifling heat wave in August 2021, 80 volunteers from Massachusetts communities along the Mystic River fixed sensors to their car windows and bicycles, traveling along 19 predetermined routes recording ambient temperature and humidity levels along the way.

The data they collected — part of the Wicked Hot Mystic project — contributed to a growing understanding of how the effects of extreme heat play out across cities. Along Mystic River communities like Cambridge, Somerville, Everett and Malden, heat fluctuated most dramatically in historically “red-lined” areas, with lower-income residents and less green space. Similar trends have been tracked across the United States.

But the project didn’t end — or even begin — with the data.

Working with the Mystic River Watershed Association, a local nonprofit, Wicked Hot Mystic researchers took the community temperature, so to speak, ahead of time, parsing what locals hoped to get out of the research.

“We asked residents what they really wanted us to find out,” says David Sittenfeld, a Ph.D. graduate of Northeastern University and the director of the Center for the Environment at Boston’s Museum of Science, which spearheaded the project. “We spent a long time listening, interviewing resilience planners about their priorities. And we worked closely with them to find out things in ways that comported with those priorities and ideas.”

The project also included an app interface for citizens to record observations beyond the numbers. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data allowed urban planners to precisely target their heat mitigation efforts in the most vulnerable areas.

That reciprocal dynamic is a model for how researchers like Sittenfeld and Damon Hall, a Northeastern environmental science and public policy professor, want to reframe “citizen science” — in which community volunteers help conduct field studies and collect data.

Read more from NGN Magazine.

Illustration by Renee Zhang/Northeastern University

July 02, 2024

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