Harvard Astronomer’s Lecture to Kick Off spring 2018 University Forum Schedule

February 15, 2018
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John Asher Johnson

Harvard University astronomy professor John Asher Johnson is expanding not only the knowledge base about our universe, but also opportunities for more people to contribute to that endeavor.

Johnson – internationally recognized both for his talents as a research pioneer in his field and leading advocate for diversity in the sciences – will be the first speaker for the spring 2018 University Forum series at The University of Southern Mississippi. He will present “Recruiting the Culture of Science” Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Bennett Auditorium on the Southern Miss Hattiesburg campus. This event is free and open to the public.


Along with his research team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Johnson discovered three exoplanets – planets outside our solar system that orbit a sun – including the smallest exoplanet identified to date. He is the principal investigator for the Miniature Exoplanet Radial Velocity Array (MINERVA), an earth-based robotic search for exoplanets.


Johnson’s efforts to bring in more members of populations underrepresented in academia, and astronomical sciences in particular, led to the establishment of the Banneker and Aztlán Institute at Harvard in 2014. The institute’s goals for its summer program, for example, include to “prepare undergraduate students of color for graduate programs in astronomy by emphasizing research, building community, and encouraging debate and political action through social justice education.”


Dr. Andrew Haley, director of University Forum and a professor of history, said Johnson’s work forces us to reconsider how we value scientific discovery.

“I keep thinking about a telescope pointed at the stars. We want that telescope to be powerful and accurate, but the technology only works if someone is looking through it,” Dr. Haley said. “Johnson forces us to consider who is looking through the telescope, and asks whether the science is less valuable when the viewers are all white. The institute he established challenges us to do what we must to insure those with skill and ambition have a chance to study the stars.”


Presented by the Honors College and generously supported by the Southern Miss Office of the University President, University Forum has been the premier speaker series at USM since 1974.  For more information about University Forum, visit https://www.usm.edu/honors and click on “University Forum”; “Southern Miss Forum” on Facebook; or email forum@usm.edu.