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Meet the man who is ‘hacking the stars:’ Astrophysicist, science educator Hakeem Oluseyi

Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi
Florida Institute of Technology

Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi is an astrophysicist with so many credentials it would take a page and a half to list them all. Here’s a sample: He has a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University, was a 2012 TED Global Fellow, was a visiting scholar at MIT, was a U.S. State Department speaker and specialist to Algeria in 2012 and he co-hosts television shows on the Science Channel, National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel.

That’s all on top of his day job as a professor of physics and space sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology, where he leads a research group that “hacks the stars,” develops in-space propulsion technologies and investigates the structure and evolution of the universe.

Oluseyi also has begun working with the 100 Year Starship Project, which is working to send humans on an interstellar space mission within 100 years.

Oluseyi joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh ahead of a conference at Westminster College earlier this month to discuss the latest in space technology and describe exactly what “hacking the stars” means.

“When I say ‘hack the stars,’ the word ‘hack’ in this context means ‘repurpose,’” Oluseyi said. “Typically, astrophysicists study stars to understand stars. In my research group, we study stars to develop a new technology we can use and we study stars to understand how the galaxy formed and evolved. That helps us understand how the universe was formed and the universe evolved.”

Oluseyi is excited about advances that have been made in this area. In the past ten years, solar system exploration has yielded results such as spacecraft landing on a comet, going into orbit around Jupiter and providing images back to earth. We’ve also learned quite a bit more about how galaxies form and evolve.

These lessons have implications outside of the realm of “science for science’s sake” as well:

“When we think about science, we look at it in two ways,” Oluseyi said. “One way is: it advances understanding of the natural world. It also serves as a facilitator for new technologies. A lot of computation technologies are coming out of astrophysics: big data and things like that. These techniques go into analyzing data the military uses to keep us safe or that marketers use to make money.”

Oluseyi discussed the importance of funding scientific discovery on St. Louis on the Air, saying that the recession really impacted how far scientific exploration was able to move forward in the early 2000s.

“What we’ve seen from history is that those nations that engage in fundamental exploration and research are winners,” Oluseyi. “It is hard to predict what in that enterprise will turn you into a winner. But engaging in it actually does. It is a very valuable resource.”

Listen to Oluseyi as he discusses his scientific research and what he thinks we’ll see achieved in the realm of astrophysics in the next ten years:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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