Nuclear Physics and Society with Dr Shelly Lesher (#26)

We talk about how nuclear sciences impacts our world and Shelly's love of shoes.

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Dr Shelly Lesher is a Professor and Chair of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (UWL) and a Guest Professor at the University of Notre Dame with an active research program in experimental low-energy nuclear physics and developing the next generation of scientists.

Dr Lesher has authored of over 55 scientific publications which focus on understanding the structure of nuclei in journals such as Physical Review C, Physical Review Letters, and Nuclear Physics A. She is also interested in the intersection of physics and human rights and has served as the chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists.

At an undergraduate institution, she works on developing the next generation of scientists and educating non-science majors in nuclear issues which includes developing and hosting a podcast on the intersection of nuclear science and society called My Nuclear Life available to the general public. Serving as the Director of the Division of Nuclear Physics Conference Experience for Undergraduate (CEU) program she arranges for undergraduate students to attend a national nuclear physics conference to present their research.

She has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Katholiek Universiteit Leuven in Belgium and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Her scientific research is funded by the National Science Foundation. Some recent honors include Fellowship at the American Physical Society and the Yale Presidential Visiting Scholar.

In our conversation, we talk about how nuclear sciences impacts our world and Shelly’s love of shoes.

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Show Notes

[00:00:58] Shelly’s origin story.
[00:01:32] General Education at American universities.
[00:04:56] The importance of a broad education.
[00:05:39] Scientists should understand how their work impacts the world.
[00:06:56] The influence of the arts and sciences on popular culture.
[00:07:39] Diversity in the field and motivating people to be a part of it.
[00:09:41] Michele’s professional background.
[00:11:22] Shelly’s journey to nuclear physics.
[00:12:01] The research on nuclei that drew Shelly in.
[00:15:42] The ‘sexy’ physics problems.
[00:16:23] The fascination of the unknowns in foundational knowledge.
[00:17:02] Being introduced to nuclear physics as an undergrad.
[00:20:23] Realising she had a passion for the field.
[00:22:13] Keep doing what you enjoy and it might turn into your career.
[00:23:31] Feeding her travel bug.
[00:24:02] Working at CERN and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
[00:25:19] Returning to vibrational nuclei.
[00:26:19] Finding an institution that matches your research interest.
[00:29:51] The limitations on research in physics.
[00:32:21] The challenges of vibrational nuclei.
[00:34:14] Shelly’s focus on teaching nuclear in society.
[00:35:14] Wanting to lower the psychological barrier around nuclear physics. And failing.
[00:36:00] Pivoting to teach global impact to physics students.
[00:36:52] We begin with the nuclear bomb.
[00:37:22] A scientist’s dream job.
[00:38:02] The ideology and setting the context for the work.
[00:39:21] Accounts from both US and Japan and the social effects of the bomb.
[00:40:12] The clinical distance when we learn about history.
[00:41:05] Humanity in the sciences.
[00:41:49] Pursuit of science and the moral dilemma.
[00:43:01] How do you teach ethics to scientists?
[00:45:25] The morally grey and teaching empathy.
[00:46:49] The history of what we have available today.
[00:47:27] Nuclear science through the lens of popular culture.
[00:47:49] Nuclear science in our society.
[00:48:00] Nuclear science and human rights.
[00:48:48] Nuclear energy.
[00:51:13] Nuclear medicine.
[00:54:29] The origins of the bikini.
[00:55:27] The influence on popular culture.
[00:56:32] Social impact and development.
[00:56:54] The impact on the space program.
[00:57:51] Nuclear bombs and music.
[00:58:37] The impact inspires creativity and expression.
[00:59:32] What Shelly hopes to accomplish.
[00:59:39] Dispelling the fears perpetuated by the media.
[01:01:18] Nuclear astrophysics.
[01:01:35] How all the elements in the universe came to be.
[01:03:41] The philosophical and practical applications of science.
[01:04:23] My Nuclear Life.
[01:05:40] Sharing knowledge with a general audience and learning more herself.
[01:07:15] The silver lining of COVID.
[01:08:33] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[01:08:38] Love of travel and shoes.
[01:10:55] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
[01:11:13] Nancy Drew.
[01:11:44] Linking personal traits to potential and the importance of exploring interests.
[01:13:43] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
[01:14:50] Define what success is to you.
[01:22:15] Reaching out to Shelly.

Topics/Resources/People Mentioned

tumblr post about a scientist's dilemma pt. 1
A scientist's dilemma pt. 1. Source Tumblr
tumblr post about a scientist's dilemma pt. 2
A scientist's dilemma pt. 2. Source Tumblr

Additional Resources

  • Nuclear Power in Australia (wiki)
  • Nuclear weapons tests in Australia (wiki)
  • British nuclear tests at Maralinga (wiki)

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