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Following the Stars

Astrophysics student Davin Flateau gave up his career to follow his dream of discovery.

Date: 4/7/2009
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Davin Flateau
Davin Flateau admits that he’s always been a space cadet.

The nontraditional physics major has dedicated his life to the great unknown. He has spent the past 25 years as an astronomy educator and director at numerous planetariums across the country.

“I was teaching astronomy and doing full-length, large-scale documentaries for astronomy and I did that for a long time,” Flateau explains. “But what was going on in astronomy was too exciting to just be teaching it, so I decided to go back to school for astrophysics full time.”

Davin Flateau.
Flateau will spend his summer researching at an observatory in Arizona.

As a planetarium director, Flateau saw first hand what technological advances could do for an organization's exhibits and shows. What used to be just a dark room with a monotonous lecture became digital movies in large, IMAX theaters where the audience felt as if they too were flying through the universe.

Newly discovered planets, stars and galaxies used to take 10 years to make it to the museum floor, Flateau says, but technology has allowed for scientific data—sometimes still unpublished—to be introduced to the public as it’s happening.

“It gave me the itch to go into astronomical research because we are now living through a golden age of astronomical discovery,” Flateau says. “It’s not just fantastic for people who follow astronomy; it’s totally changing the way we look at the universe almost monthly.”

Today, Flateau is a sophomore in the department of physics within the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, where he is earning his BS with a concentration in astrophysics. His ultimate goal is to garner a PhD so he, too, can contribute to the abundant scientific discoveries that are occurring so rapidly.

“Davin’s exceptional,” associate professor of physics Margaret Hanson says. “He has a strong knowledge base for astronomy and he’s great to have in the classroom.”

Since he started taking classes at UC, Flateau has completely immersed himself in the field. Not only does he take classes full time, he has his own Web site, Perfect Silence, that focuses on his interdisciplinary love of the arts and science. Flateau also creates podcasts for the Web site 365 Days of Astronomy, a project to celebrate 2009 as the international year of astronomy.

On campus, he’s even co-founded an astronomy club for astronomy students and anyone else interested in the discipline.

Not only that, Flateau was recently awarded a research internship with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory to work hands-on with astronomers and the telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.

While Flateau, 38, is older than most undergraduates, he harbors the same excitement for the discipline as his younger counterparts.

“It’s never too late to do exactly what you want to do,” Flateau says, mentioning his wife, too, who quit her career as a biologist to go to medical school.

“Life is too short not to do it,” he says.

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