Transcript - And The Next Thing You Know Podcast
Episode 014: Oliver Strimpel
(Theme music) (00:00:00):
And The Next Thing You Know Theme by Jon Schwartz
Suzie Sherman (00:00:13):
This is And The Next Thing You Know. It’s a podcast about how our lives go exactly not as we planned them. I’m Suzie Sherman.
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Hello, Hello! Welcome to this next installment of the podcast. Some of you may be joining us for the first time because you know the work of our guest today, Oliver Strimpel, the creator and host of Geology Bites, also a podcast but obviously about geology, and I’ll be getting to introducing him in a few moments. Thanks for being here with us. And The Next Thing You Know is a one-woman operation, entirely produced by me, and if you’re already a fan of the show, or if you’d like to support it, please visit our Patreon page at patreon dot com slash nextthingpod and sign up for five bucks a month, 10 bucks a month, help me live my wildest dreams to bring you deep, meaningful conversations with people about their serpentine life experiences.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:10):
And in this case, I mean, in the windy path sense of serpentine and not in the serpentine group of hydrous magnesium iron phyllosilicate minerals formed through metamorphic processes sense, but that’s the beauty of language. Okay. I would scarcely know what the word metamorphic even meant, if I weren’t totally obsessed with Geology Bites. I first discovered Oliver Strimpel’s podcast in the early days of the pandemic, when he launched it in 2020, and it has become essential listening for me. Even as a very science naive person, myself, I find that Oliver crafts his podcast interviews in a way that brings intricate concepts into relief. Everything from what drives plate tectonics, to the composition of rocks and the amazing amount of information they contain about Earth’s prehistoric climates and biological processes, to the shapes of mountain ridges and canyons, to the existence of 100-million-year-old bacteria in the abyssal clay at the bottom of the ocean.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:16):
And just as the Earth’s mantle and crust are constantly in motion, so is the science explaining all these processes and Oliver really knits together a holistic story that is still being told about the history and, likely, the future of our planet. Oliver Strimpel holds a PhD in astrophysics from Oxford University. He is a former curator at the Science Museum in London and the former executive director at the Computer Museum in Boston. He’s also a patent attorney. Yeah, he’s done some stuff in his life. And I got the absolute privilege and honor to talk to him about it. A note on the timing of this episode and a couple of corrections for you, at the beginning of the episode, Oliver says he started his podcast “last July” and that really means July of 2020, because it was already July of 2021 when we sat down together to talk. Later on, Oliver mentions that he’s about to publish episode number 37, which was his conversation with guest, Steve D’Hondt, on that 100-million-year-old bacterial colony that you’ll hear more about in the episode.
Suzie Sherman (00:03:25):
I just wanted to clarify that that episode of Geology Bites was posted back in July of 2021. I’ll have a link in the show notes. At the time I’m posting this episode, in March of 2022, Geology Bites is about to break 60 episodes. All of this is due to the glacial pace of my production process. So I’m grateful to Oliver for his patience with me and to all of you for tolerating my geology puns. One more correction, also at the beginning of the episode, Oliver guesses that Nanga Parbat is about the fifth or sixth highest peak in the world, it is in fact, the ninth highest peak. And with that, this is my conversation with Oliver Strimpel.
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Suzie Sherman (00:04:12):
All right. So I’m in the driver’s seat here. You must be very intimidated.
Oliver Strimpel (00:04:21):
Actually. It’s a very nice change, actually. I’m used to the roles being reversed. So this is very relaxing.
Suzie Sherman (00:04:28):
Yeah. I’m really honored that you’re willing to share a lot of your story with me. You’re pretty forthcoming in the questions that I asked you in our email exchange. It’s funny, and it maybe seems a little incongruous, I think I said this already but I’ll just say for the record, our podcasts are very different. Your podcast is a science, a hard science focused podcast and your interview style is very business. You don’t do a lot of chit-chat on your podcast. And my podcast is a little more, it’s a lot more personal. So I thank you for being willing to share a little bit of your story with us.
Oliver Strimpel (00:05:05):
Happy to do it.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:06):
So you host and produce a podcast called Geology Bites and you launched during the pandemic, yes or before?
Oliver Strimpel (00:05:15):
Yeah. July last year.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:18):
And it’s a really delightful podcast. You do get down to business and talk to people about, you bring researchers on, folks who all have been doing significant work in their fields, to talk about geology, to talk about the way that the earth interacts with the universe and the sense that all of the materials that we find on earth are found all across the universe and so astrophysics comes into it. It’s a really great podcast and I wonder, how did you decide to start producing a podcast?
Oliver Strimpel (00:05:54):
Well, I’d had the idea about five years ago and I was just mulling it in my mind but it was really the pandemic that made me figure, I actually had time to start a new project and it wasn’t going to get interrupted by travel. I normally travel quite a lot. And the particular trigger was that my daughter started a podcast of her own, which is called Hyped!, with an exclamation mark, and she’s much less tech-savvy than I am and I thought, well, if she can do it, I can certainly do it.
Oliver Strimpel (00:06:34):
So any lingering fears about whether I could actually make it happen, physically, were allayed. And I then ran it by my good friend at Oxford, Mike Searle, who’s pretty distinguished geology professor there, and he was very enthusiastic. So I signed him up right away as being the guinea pig and he was more than happy to do it. And I thought he did a really good job. So then I got to it and I edited it and posted it. No, actually, I didn’t post it. I decided I was going to have a critical mass of about five or six before I actually launched it. I guess it just went from there. I knew a lot of people in the field. I met different challenges along the way, but that’s what really got me going, was the fact that I thought I could do it and I wanted to try it.
Suzie Sherman (00:07:28):
Great. You had a little bit, maybe, of a role reversal with your daughter there in terms of tech-savviness because I imagine your daughter is either Gen X or a millennial, I expect, but you have a lot more technical savvy because of the work that you’ve done. So usually she would’ve been the much more fluid with the technology.
Oliver Strimpel (00:07:52):
That’s right. Yep. She counts herself as a bit of a tech neophyte. I’m usually the one who’s fixing her apps on her smartphone or getting a computer running and so on. So yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:08:07):
So let’s go back aways. I love the idea of imagining you as a kid in all of your wonder about the universe. And I was surprised to hear that you were actually born in Bombay and so you had some very early childhood experiences, especially, with your mom being really reverent in the Himalaya.
Oliver Strimpel (00:08:28):
Yes. I mean, I grew up in India until I was eight and we would go, most summers, to the Himalayas, which involved a train ride and a bus ride. And we would go to a place actually called the Kullu Valley, I remember now, which had lovely apple orchards and was a very alpine environment. Though, of course, I didn’t think of it that way as being a four-year-old child, it was just all I knew. And we would go up these high mountains on these walks and then we would take with us locals who would bring their sleds and then we would come down, sledding down glaciers that were in the valleys between and it was.
Suzie Sherman (00:09:16):
Oliver Strimpel (00:09:16):
Really exciting. I remember that being, holding on for dear life to one of these guys and he was breaking on this primitive sled. We shot down at great speed, something that had taken us all day to get up. But at the top, I remember on one or two occasions, my mother seeing in the far distance the towering massif of Nanga Parbat, which I think must be what number five or six highest mountain in the world, and it’s a really dramatic mountain. It’s got a big symmetrical shape, as I found out later. Of course, from that distance, I couldn’t really see much, it was just…
Oliver Strimpel (00:09:58):
…anyway, that was a memory and there was a certain reverence and awe and I think I inherited that sense about the mountains being something perhaps spiritual, perhaps a place where you got a different perspective on the world and where you could reach parts of your soul, if you like, that other places on the planet wouldn’t reach. That was one of the very first experiences, I remember, the mountains and one of the things that actually then drove me later to go to Pakistan and look at the Himalayas and that part of the world. Which I did in 2008 when nobody else was going there because of all the scares of the terrorism and so on. But that was much later, of course.
Suzie Sherman (00:10:39):
It occurs to me now, I would love for you to do a roll call of how many countries you’ve been to in search of the physical landscape, wanting to experience the physical landscape.
Oliver Strimpel (00:10:51):
Well, that’s quite a long list. Of course, as a child, India, I didn’t seek it out, my parents took me around. The Alps, we were in Milan after that. My family moved to Milan, so we went skiing in the Alps and hiking in the Alps. So that was Switzerland, France and Italy and Austria. More recently, landscapes in New Zealand, Namibia, Iceland. Well, the west part of the United States, quite dramatic, Ecuador, Columbia, Uruguay, Argentina, Antarctica, Chile and I’m probably forgetting a few, but.
Suzie Sherman (00:11:35):
Oliver Strimpel (00:11:35):
Certainly a lot more places I’d love to go to that I haven’t been to yet.
Suzie Sherman (00:11:41):
I’m such a dilettante in terms of travel, but I’m thinking of one of the physical features that I’ve seen that was, that’s pretty incredible. I went to South Africa in 2002 and seeing Table Mountain and then seeing the entire City Bowl of Cape Town. Where you’re on the Cape of Africa and you’re seeing the oceans all around you from Table Mountain, is an extraordinary view that I’ve been able to take in. Not too many of them though. I haven’t done too much traveling. So you’ve had quite a trajectory in your career path. You started off in grad school doing astrophysics. Your PhD was about star clusters.
Oliver Strimpel (00:12:30):
Actually, galaxy clusters.
Suzie Sherman (00:12:33):
Ga–galaxy clusters. Thank you.
Oliver Strimpel (00:12:36):
Yes. I’ve always been interested in seeing things from the biggest possible perspective. So that made me fascinated by the very great time scales, great distances, obviously associated with the large scales, and so that drew me to cosmology and astronomy. And after doing a degree in physics and then a masters in astronomy, that’s what I did, I did a PhD in astrophysics. And at that time, the largest structures that we knew about in the universe were clusters of galaxies. So we knew there were about 10 to the 11 galaxies. That’s about a hundred million billion galaxies in the universe and we could see that many of them were clustered in the sky.
Oliver Strimpel (00:13:27):
Some of them very tightly clustered and that most of the clusters were elongated in their shapes. They weren’t just round globular clusters, as you often see with stars actually, within the galaxy, you see clusters of maybe a hundred thousand stars that are pretty spherical in the way they look. But the clusters of galaxies were never really spherical and so the question arose, were they not spherical because they were shaped more like pancakes that we would be looking at edge on or were they not spherical because they were a bit more like cigars. And the reason why that’s not just a totally academic question is because if they were discs like pancakes, that means that the galaxies formed after the cluster collapsed into a shape of its own. So in other words, if it was all gas and it formed into this huge ball of gas and then the galaxies formed, you would wind up with a pancake and that’s because the gas would collide and it would form a disc.
Oliver Strimpel (00:14:39):
But if the galaxies formed first, then you would wind up with a prolate sphere, with a cigar shape. And people were really curious as to how long ago galaxies formed. What really happened in the first part of the universe. We’re always trying to probe back to the Big Bang.
Suzie Sherman (00:14:59):
Oliver Strimpel (00:15:00):
And so that seemed to be the frontier and, actually, at that time, just around that time, the very first X-ray satellites were going up. They could actually take images in X-rays. X-rays are very difficult to image because they tend to go straight through you. That’s why we have an X-ray when we want to look at what’s going on inside our body, the rays go straight through, but you can get them to bounce off a mirror if the X-rays come at a very glancing angle. And so people were just developing those kinds of optics.
Suzie Sherman (00:15:38):
This is about the late ’70s that we’re talking about, this moment that this technology is emerging?
Oliver Strimpel (00:15:44):
Yes, correct. Late ’70s. And the reason that these images of X-rays were important is it enabled you to look at the way the galaxies were distributed and then what you see with optical, with normal telescopes. But you’re also able to see the way the gas and between the galaxies there is very, very hot gas, about a million degree centigrade gas, and that emits in X-rays. So I’m maybe getting a little bit too technical in details here, but the bottom line is that this technology enables us, for the first time, to actually see in 3D. To actually figure out whether the third dimension meant that there were really more like pancakes or really more like cigars. And my PhD thesis was really all about trying to figure that out using this new X-ray data. It basically came out that they were more like discs but the problem was that the assumption I was working on actually turned out not to be true.
Suzie Sherman (00:16:50):
Oliver Strimpel (00:16:51):
There wasn’t enough time and so the whole method was really flawed, but people later used the techniques to study other systems to which it did apply. So at least it wasn’t completely wasted. But that’s really the reason I was so interested in all this was because I was really overcome as a child by a sense as to how big and awesome the universe is, how small and insignificant people are. I mean, the classic Copernican point of view. And I really wanted to find out what our place in the universe was, given that we were just one tiny spec on one tiny planet in one tiny corner of just one of billions and billions of galaxies. That’s what drew me to astrophysics.
Suzie Sherman (00:17:38):
And what you’re describing is that the scientific process, which is invaluable, where we do research, we find out if the hypothesis is true or not and if it’s not true, that gives us information we need to ask different questions.
Oliver Strimpel (00:17:57):
Suzie Sherman (00:17:57):
I imagine at the time that you’re doing the research and you’re investing all of your time and energy into it and coming up with, the answer that you’re coming up with is not the answer that you were hoping to see. There has to be some disappointment in that process as well.
Oliver Strimpel (00:18:15):
Well, I only found out about it much later because we didn’t know at the time that the assumption wasn’t correct, so.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:23):
Oliver Strimpel (00:18:23):
At the time. Yeah. At the time I thought, well, this is pretty useful and the people who examined my PhD were very happy with it and invited me to go on and do more research, but I decided I didn’t want to carry on doing research, so.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:39):
And you had mentioned, in our exchange before today, that there’s something also, and a lot of us know this to be true, there’s something political in the decisions that get made and what research gets done. And I think I registered in you a little bit of a rebellious spirit that maybe also drove you away from doing research, ultimately.
Oliver Strimpel (00:19:04):
In a way it almost comes back to the somewhat spiritual experience I was recounting about my mother in Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas because she had a reverence for science and scientists and I think I inherited that so that when I saw people doing science for extrinsic reasons for whatever they might be to get funding.
Suzie Sherman (00:19:26):
Oliver Strimpel (00:19:27):
Or to get praise or to get the job or impress somebody, it made me feel uneasy and I really didn’t want to be part of that game, myself. I wanted to feel that if I was doing research, I was doing it out of the purest of motives. So perhaps I was being a little bit idealistic and purist, but I felt I couldn’t really accomplish that. And I also just, honestly, felt that I didn’t, I wasn’t so interested in finding out the results of research through my own hard work and discovery, I was quite happy to learn about the way the universe was from the blood, sweat and tears of others. Let them do the hard work, push the frontiers forward. I’ll just learn about it afterwards.
Suzie Sherman (00:20:12):
How did you find yourself becoming a curator at the Science Museum in London? How did that opportunity come about?
Oliver Strimpel (00:20:19):
Oh, that was pretty random. When I was finishing up my PhD, a friend of mine saw an ad, I think it was in New Scientist magazine, for a curator at the Science Museum in London and he thought this might be of interest to me because he knew I didn’t want to carry on research and he knew I was interested in the subject. So anyway, so I saw that and not really thinking very much about it I said, well, okay, why don’t I just apply for that? I didn’t really do much searching at the time. I wasn’t very systematic about my job search.
Oliver Strimpel (00:20:50):
I’ve never been very good about thinking of my career. I have a mental block about that kind of thing, but there was a job advertised at the Coal Board, which is the National UK Office that deals with coal mining, coal extraction, and they wanted somebody to do operation research. So I applied for that. And anyway, cut a long story short, I got two job offers, one in London at the Science Museum and one for the Coal Board, which was up in the Midlands of England. So I took the coal, (correction) I took the Science Museum job because it seemed interesting and more science related and more in London, I don’t know, whatever. I didn’t really think too hard about it. And that’s how I landed at the Science Museum.
Suzie Sherman (00:21:34):
How do you hold that about yourself that you haven’t really put much strategic thought into your career decisions in that way? I don’t want to blanketly categorize you in a certain way, but I’ll say I relate to that circumstance or dilemma or feeling of I’m going to just explore the options that become available and there’s something a little serendipitous about it. It’s not necessarily a systematic search.
Oliver Strimpel (00:22:06):
Well, I think it was less about allowing serendipity and more about just having mental blocks about it. I didn’t, for most of my life and I still don’t really, I don’t really have a very big ego, if you like, in the sense that I don’t think that I’m that great at everything. And so I, like most people, I don’t really like failure and so I probably thought, well, I’m not really sure what all things I can do. I mean, I grew up thinking I’d be a scientist. I found out that really for various reasons, I didn’t want to be a scientist. I needed to be somewhere a little peripheral related to scientist because I was still very curious, but I never really formulated a clear idea of anything else I wanted to be. And so it was just all a case of just taking opportunities as they came or yeah, sort of random walk, really.
Suzie Sherman (00:22:59):
I really, I relate to it. I don’t know if you know this about me, if I’ve mentioned this in our exchange before, but I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychotherapy, right, in psychology. And I worked for many years as a psychotherapy intern and ultimately decided not to pursue my license as a therapist. For me, delightfully becoming a podcast host and engaging in these, sometimes, pretty deep and profound conversations with people, has been a real ameliorative process for me, in making use of that experience. And I relate a lot to that sense of not always being sure about what I feel is my most strong suit and trying to identify a career match to what I think my strengths are, has been hard for me. But what about that Science Museum curation job met you? What suited you about that work when you found it?
Oliver Strimpel (00:24:01):
Well, I like, I am excited by science, even if I didn’t want to be a researcher and I continued to be fascinated by it and I enjoy explaining it to people. And so the aspect of the job that appealed to me was building exhibitions for the general public on subjects that I was enthusiastic about and knew something about. There was another aspect to the job, which was about curation, about being in charge of a national collection and buying things in auctions or taking care of things, writing catalog entries, that kind of thing. Being a historian of objects, that was less my thing. I was much less of a historian, much more of a science interpreter and I like to do it very much in the three-dimensional format, that was exciting to me. Most people when they popularize or explain science, they do it in 2D, in a book, or maybe in audio, in a video or an audio recording.
Suzie Sherman (00:25:02):
Or, perhaps, a podcast.
Oliver Strimpel (00:25:04):
Or, and more recently in podcast, exactly. So I really like that challenge and that, I mean, that’s very much in a straight line with the kind of thing I’m doing now with Geology Bites. No question. And I learned that, I think, I learned that skill in the Science Museum where you have the general public, some of whom know a lot, some of whom know virtually nothing, and you want to have content for everybody without putting off the less knowledgeable people with reams of stuff. That involves structuring material in different ways and I just found that challenge fascinating plus, and that’s the other thing that I get terrific pleasure out of doing Geology Bites now as well, is that it gave me a license to talk to people who are generating the new technology and producing these great things.
Oliver Strimpel (00:25:56):
So I could just go in and talk to anybody because, hey, if this is going to be in the Science Museum, that was like huge kudos. This is a national museum with a lot of prestige. So everyone wanted to talk to me and I love that and I’m also trying to make that happen with my podcast because I want people to feel like they want to be part of it because I have some of the best people already on the program and it gives me an opportunity to speak to people who are just doing amazing work. I am really curious about what I talk to these people about. I really want to know the answers. I’m not just asking the questions so my listeners can hear it, I am too, but I’m asking the questions because I want to know the answers.
Suzie Sherman (00:26:40):
That’s right. You’re engaging your personal passion for the subjects.
Oliver Strimpel (00:26:46):
Suzie Sherman (00:26:46):
And it’s very obvious that you’ve put in, really, a lifetime of work. I know that this is very recent, the incubation of this podcast you say only goes back about five years and you’ve been posting episodes for a year now, but you’ve got a lifetime of experience that has led you to it. And so your passion for the subject and your preparation in the questions is very obvious.
Oliver Strimpel (00:27:11):
I think it’s certainly very connected to that, what I found enjoyable about the Science Museum. It’s just a different medium, but it’s a lot of the same things and a lot of the same gratification, both in terms of, as you said as I said, the conversations and the research of what’s going to go into it and scoping out the material, then asking, finding out the answers, but also in terms of making it edited and succinct. And another aspect, that you touched upon earlier, is that there’s a big difference between my podcast and yours. And that mine is very, as you put it, businesslike. I would like to say it’s a bit more terse, if you like, and more concise and to the point because I feel very much that the science world and, in fact, many media are a little verbose and a little bit too worthy for me.
Oliver Strimpel (00:28:02):
And some of this comes also from the next part of my career, which we haven’t got to yet, which involved really distilling ideas to their very essence. We’re going to talk about it in a moment, that it’s to do with writing patent applications, being a patent attorney. But I think that partly informs what I’m doing in the podcast, is the curiosity but also the wish to really try and get at the essence of things, the core of things.
Suzie Sherman (00:28:31):
And getting at the core for the purpose of communicating clearly?
Oliver Strimpel (00:28:39):
Yeah, I guess, clearly to myself and clearly to my public. And also just, well, I mean, just to make sure you reach that topic. I mean, I don’t want to speak to somebody who’s got a fantastic story to tell, but I just don’t get to it or I don’t ask the questions in the right ways to elicit that original response that hits the nail on the head. I can think of several examples in the podcast, in some of the episodes where some of the issues were really quite complex, wrapped up in quite a bit of physics or quite a bit of observational technique, but what came out of it can sometimes be summarized in one sentence and it can be a very surprising thing. I mean, the thing that comes to mind now is Dan McKenzie, who is one of the people credited with the discovery of plate tectonics and is one of the superstars in the field, we had him talk about Venus and what Venus can tell us about the earth.
Oliver Strimpel (00:29:45):
And it turned out that he dreamed up an incredibly clever experiment using the Magellan satellite, that was going around Venus at the time, to measure the gravity and the topography at the same time and thus, therefore figure out what was happening to the rocks on Venus and how much they were being pushed up and so on. But what came out of that was that the rocks on Venus behave in a certain way, namely that they can be still solid at very high temperatures. But the fact that was so amazing was because it was that they were extraordinarily dry. There’s no water in them, and even a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of water, a few parts per million, in the rocks is enough to make them melt so much more easily, that on earth, any rocks that get to that temperature, they will be molten. And so-
Suzie Sherman (00:30:41):
The dynamics are completely different.
Oliver Strimpel (00:30:43):
It’s different. But the reason that, one of the reasons, they’re different is that nobody had realized this is that it’s just this tiny amount of water that makes all the difference and they try to do experiments with really dry rocks and they found that after taking them out of the oven and then doing the experiment on them, that the amount of water they absorbed on earth just from the atmosphere was enough to change their properties. This was something really surprising that he didn’t really know he was going to find, but we managed to boil it down as that came out and I thought that was a pretty surprising discovery.
Suzie Sherman (00:31:16):
Amazing. I’m also just going on a reverie now, I think one of the things I wouldn’t have thought of before listening to your podcast was even the relationship between water and rocks that all of the oceans have, as water that’s precipitated out of the rocks. I’m not sure if I’m characterizing that correctly, but I wouldn’t have had a conceptualization of that before listening to the podcast.
Oliver Strimpel (00:31:39):
Actually, that’s a really interesting point. There’s a huge debate. There are those that think that all the water was in the rocks when earth was formed and there are those that think that all the water was brought here by comets that came in from the outer Solar System and delivered them to earth much later. And that debate is raging right now.
Suzie Sherman (00:32:00):
I can’t take anything for granted. Any knowledge I think I have, we could have a whole conversation, probably, about epistemology in that way. So before we jump into your radical shift in your career path, as you mentioned, toward becoming a patent lawyer. You also did curation and direction of a museum in Boston in the ’80s, The Computer Museum in Boston, and the moment that you moved was a really fortuitous moment in the history of computing. You moved to Boston in 1984. Can you tell me about that moment in your life?
Oliver Strimpel (00:32:41):
Yes. It was a very exciting time for computers. I mean, they were becoming affordable, so people could have their own. The ones in corporations were getting bigger and more powerful, so they could contemplate using them for many more things. And so I did build a couple of exhibitions on computers while I was still in London, but the center of all this activity really was Route 128 in Boston at that time, which is the ring road around Boston. Companies like Digital Equipment Corporation, Prime Computer, Wang, the list goes on and on, all the great computer companies were located right there. So anyway, the chief engineer of digital and his wife came visiting all the national museums in Europe and Canada to see what we were doing because they wanted to set up a museum of their own on computers and they wanted somebody who had experience building exhibitions about computers.
Oliver Strimpel (00:33:39):
So when they came to London, they liked what I’d done and they invited me to come over and help them set up a new museum about computers in Boston. And I liked my job in London, but just seemed like a really special opportunity and it’s flattering to be invited by the chief technology officer of a multi-billion dollar corporation to come and set up a museum. I guess I was seduced by that. And the other thing I really liked was that there was a terrific can-do spirit about him. Nothing was impossible. It was like, I had an idea for an exhibition and before I got the idea out of my mouth, he was already thinking about ways to make it happen.
Oliver Strimpel (00:34:23):
And this is so radically different from the spirit of the ethos of the English Civil Service, which is what a curator at the Science Museum in London (was). I was a civil servant. I was a part of the British Government, and they have a very good ability to criticize, which means that anything that survives is very good because it’s withstood all the criticism you can imagine. All the reasons why you can’t do something and good stuff does come through, but you have to really push for it. And this was such a enabling environment. It was sort of like, well, yeah you want to do a gallery on computer graphics, that’s fine. Great. We’ll raise some money and we know these corporations and they got CEOs of these companies involved and it was just a really enabling and really a wonderful experience to have that positive attitude.
Suzie Sherman (00:35:14):
Right. It’s a really innovative environment that you’re speaking to, it sounds like, in comparison.
Oliver Strimpel (00:35:20):
Innovative and positive. There was a feeling of fun. Let’s do something unless we can’t, rather than let’s not do something unless we show we have to. It was just the other way around.
Suzie Sherman (00:35:32):
Yes. That’s right.
Oliver Strimpel (00:35:33):
I’m not the only, many English people have noted that about the US. It’s a very action-oriented place and maybe sometimes-
Suzie Sherman (00:35:42):
For better or worse, sometimes.
Oliver Strimpel (00:35:46):
Well, I think that’s a very good point. Sometimes the action could use a little bit more moderation or criticism before taking the action but in Britain, it goes almost too far.
Suzie Sherman (00:36:02):
What was that moment like for you and for your family, when you were making that decision to make this radical move to Boston?
Oliver Strimpel (00:36:12):
Well, it was made a little bit easier by the fact that both my wife and I were able to keep our jobs open for one year. We just said, well, we’re going for one year and we can come back because we both had good jobs. My wife is a molecular biologist. She had a research position at the National Medical Research Center in Mill Hill in London. And our daughter was one-and-a-half at the time, so she didn’t really get to weigh in very much. So it was a fairly easy decision. And I think the ram, we had no idea what the ramifications of the decision would be longer-term. It had certainly had ramifications that were both good and bad, but at the time I think it was fairly easy and people were very nice and helpful when we came over. Where helped us get settled in and we made friends with people, people were very open and welcoming and we both got immersed in our jobs and it was a good year. The first year was very good.
Suzie Sherman (00:37:11):
The first year?
Oliver Strimpel (00:37:14):
Well, it was also fairly easy decision to stay. We wound up renting a place near the sea on the North Shore of Boston and we love that access to the sea and to nature. Britain is a very crowded island. We like the outdoors. We like nature. The environment was very enticing. I think in the fullness of time, the difference in culture and the distance from our family, especially my wife’s family who were all in London, began to, we realized that it was, it took a toll on us and on our children that we were more isolated and there were many cultural differences that we missed certain aspects of Britain, for sure. But in the beginning when you are young and making our careers, those things didn’t loom very large and we weren’t really aware of them.
Suzie Sherman (00:38:10):
Yeah. So jumping back into the excitement of working at The Computer Museum and feeling empowered to really dig in and do what you wanted to do, engage in projects that you wanted to. Can you remember what’s one of your fondest projects that you curated there?
Oliver Strimpel (00:38:31):
Well, I love, I very much like computer graphics. So I really enjoyed the first gallery I did because computer graphics was really taking off then and I got all the early movies from, what was then, Lucasfilm and then became Pixar. I knew all the people there, the pioneers. Also, the early people who were doing the computer graphics for science, visualizing digital images and digital image processing. The people at JPL who were generating the first images at that time of Mars. Mariner was the first spacecraft to land on Mars and the very first images came in and arguably the very first digital image was hand-colored on bits of line printer output from a main frame and I got ahold of that original thing and had it in my exhibition.
Oliver Strimpel (00:39:20):
So those were very exciting days, but I think, conceptually, the exhibition I’m proudest of was one called Smart Machines, which was about artificial intelligence and about trying to understand the limits of what a computer could do compared to what people do. Which at that time was, artificial intelligence has always been on the frontier of what’s doable, as soon as we managed to do things, they get different names and at that time language understanding, expert systems, rule-based systems, these were all still considered to be part of our artificial intelligence. So I built an exhibition on artificial intelligence that had a lot of interactive exhibits where people could play with computers and see how smart they were or not, generally.
Oliver Strimpel (00:40:08):
And I also collected some very unusual robots from places like Stanford and JPL and Carnegie Mellon and had that in the robot theater but probably the thing I did that was most notorious that got the visibility of the museum up and boosted the attendance enormously was a thing called The Giant Walkthrough Computer. Which was a two story high model of a desktop computer that you could walk inside and you could operate a giant track ball and there was a giant screen and we had a piece of software running on it or simulated-running on it and.
Suzie Sherman (00:40:45):
Oliver Strimpel (00:40:46):
You could go inside and walk between the giant printed circuit boards and look inside the disk drive and see a video of electrons flowing around the processor. It was one of a kind and very photogenic, of course. And I was on national television, I think Good Morning America or something and got a huge amount of visibility for that. So, I mean, in terms of intellectual conception that wasn’t, I mean, there was some good bits, we got David Macaulay, who’s a great illustrator. Threw up wonderful cartoons and icons explaining the nature of information and how information could be representing of texts, of graphics, of audio, of anything as long as you could just boil it down into ones and zeros. So there were some nice core ideas that we were explaining to people there, but it was more just a drama of, it was a piece of showmanship really.
Suzie Sherman (00:41:45):
Oliver Strimpel (00:41:45):
But people liked that.
Suzie Sherman (00:41:47):
Well, I hope you’re not devaluing too much the intellectual acuity that needed to go into conceptualizing a project like that because it sounds like it was not superficial in a sense. I hear what you’re saying that it was an exciting exhibit for people to experience and it was very experiential and tactile for people to experience but the execution of something like that, I think, takes a lot of cunning. It sounds really exciting. I’m sure you have a lot of documentation about it. Some photos or videos of it. I would love to see it, if you, we can talk later about linking to it.
Oliver Strimpel (00:42:25):
Suzie Sherman (00:42:26):
Yeah. So then your career took a left turn, in a sense, you became a patent attorney.
Oliver Strimpel (00:42:31):
Yes. Actually I pressed a stint as director of business development at an artificial intelligence company.
Suzie Sherman (00:42:37):
Oliver Strimpel (00:42:37):
That was a little bit too cutting edge and so it went back into research mode, but yes, then I was at a dead-end. I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to carry on in the museum world because, although I could have applied to be museum director somewhere else and I could probably have worked at a science center. What really interested me about what I was doing, was not the museum aspects of it that I could just transfer to another subject, it was the computing side. I was interested in the content and it seemed like I’d had a fantastic run there. I’ve done all the exhibitions there that I wanted to do, including, I mean, there were more exhibitions there that I mentioned that I thought were pretty innovative. So anyway, I-
Suzie Sherman (00:43:25):
I’m sorry. That were pretty what?
Oliver Strimpel (00:43:28):
Suzie Sherman (00:43:28):
Oh. I’m looking for my “Amurikun” pronunciation of that. So, I didn’t quite catch it.
Oliver Strimpel (00:43:36):
How would you say-
Suzie Sherman (00:43:36):
I would say innovative.
Oliver Strimpel (00:43:38):
Suzie Sherman (00:43:40):
Sorry. So that, it’s funny that I didn’t catch it.
Oliver Strimpel (00:43:43):
That’s okay. I don’t know. I guess I come back to the mental block that I’ve talked about already before, which is, I never really could understand my role in the career path of being a particular person with particular value and slotting into a particular job.
Suzie Sherman (00:43:58):
Do you have a sense of, it sounds like it’s a little, there’s a little bit of a tender spot about whether, if you’re a science communicator rather than a scientist with a capital S. Is there something that feels, it’s of less esteem in some way?
Oliver Strimpel (00:44:17):
Yes. I mean, I’m sure a part of me believes that even though I don’t necessarily want to think that’s true but yes. Definitely, growing up, the value structure that I imbibed with my mother’s milk, if you like, was that being a scientist researcher was the top of the heap and that everything else was second best, which is perhaps why I always found it difficult to identify another career path that would be validating and worthwhile.
Suzie Sherman (00:44:53):
Yeah. We put ourselves into these constructs and it’s funny because on an intellectual level, I think, we can grasp that everyone has a role to play and all roles are valuable. And there are so many societal structures that push down on that, that I think at some core emotional level, sometimes we feel like if we’re not doing this thing that we laud as the best thing in the field, that somehow it’s a reflection of inadequacy.
Suzie Sherman (00:45:22):
I, certainly there’s plenty of things in my life that I feel like I fall into that trap in my life, in certain ways, right. When I was in the therapy field, people who were PsyDs or PhDs were top of the field, people at master’s level were doing therapy and there’s a way in which that’s traditionally been a pink-collar job to be a therapist, even a master’s level therapist. Right. It’s women’s work to take care of others and there is a trap there on emotional level, we can devalue the work internally, but societally, the work is devalued as well. It’s not paid as well. Right. So we can all fall into those traps.
Oliver Strimpel (00:46:07):
Suzie Sherman (00:46:07):
I’m calling bullshit on it.
Oliver Strimpel (00:46:10):
I understand. Yes. Fair enough. I guess, without moralizing about it at all, I guess I’m just reflecting the fact that it meant that I didn’t really have a clear direction as to where I should go. And so at that juncture, my wife suggested that I consider being a patent attorney because she was a patent attorney. She’s a very different field, but she thought that it might be good for me because it involves knowledge of science and technology and it involves analyzing and being very clear about what is not always a very open ended, in other words, sometimes a very finite universe and I’m not very good at open ended things. I can think deeply about a fairly small set of things. I’m not a omnivore. Physicists are often a bit like that, a bit reductive, take a small set of things and really figure out how they work or what, understand them in depth rather than absorb a large amount of material at the superficial level and digest it.
Suzie Sherman (00:47:14):
Looking at literally small things, like atoms?
Oliver Strimpel (00:47:17):
Well, partly that, but also simple things. I mean, an atom could be considered a very simple thing, but to a physicist, we don’t really understand it. It’s got subatomic particles and those can, themselves, break out. And so I don’t know, I wasn’t totally convinced, but I had no other ideas at the time. And so I thought, well, okay, I’ll just go to law school in the evenings and I’ll give it a shot. And halfway through my first year at law school, a pretty big Boston law firm invited me to work there as a technology specialist and pay that way through the rest of law school. So that was a very good introduction because I was actually doing patent law, essentially, without the qualification during the day and doing my courses at night. And then within the first year, I took a training course and did the patent bar exam.
Oliver Strimpel (00:48:10):
Patent law is one of only two kinds of law where you get two qualifications. First as an attorney, which is the regular bar exam, but you also have to pass the patent bar, which is a specialized exam specifically for patent attorneys. So I did the exam and I did that. So I could then practice as a patent agent and then three years later, after four years of law school, I got my JD and I could become a patent attorney, but I was really doing patent law all the time at this law firm.
Oliver Strimpel (00:48:41):
And it was a different way of thinking. I did definitely have to adapt, but some of it was surprisingly interesting. I enjoyed constitutional law, which really seemed applied philosophy, philosophy of human rights. And I enjoyed strange things. I even enjoyed tax law, surprisingly enough, you think there would be nothing more boring, but tax law is actually the manifestation of our ideas about social engineering. How do you redistribute wealth? What should be taxed? What should not be taxed? How do you want to benefit people in certain situations? It’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of how you feel people should be differential treated about what they have to give back to society. So I found that pretty interesting.
Suzie Sherman (00:49:34):
Yeah. It’s definitely not politically and sociologically neutral, tax law.
Oliver Strimpel (00:49:39):
Oh, no. Absolutely not.
Suzie Sherman (00:49:42):
I’m thinking about a certain billionaire that went into space and I’ll reserve my comments on how tax law has benefited him and enabled him to do that, to the detriment of his workers. I guess I didn’t reserve my opinion after all.
Oliver Strimpel (00:50:02):
Yeah. I think we know what you think.
Suzie Sherman (00:50:04):
Yes. Yeah. There’s big concepts in what maybe is seemingly dry content.
Oliver Strimpel (00:50:09):
Exactly. Yeah. Corporate law, another example. I enjoyed international law. How do countries relate to each other.
Suzie Sherman (00:50:18):
And the company that you do patent law for now, is a technology company?
Oliver Strimpel (00:50:23):
Yes. It’s called Avid Technology and it makes some fairly well-known products like Media Composer and Pro Tools on the audio side. So Media Composer is like the flagship video editing software that people use to make all kinds of video and movies, very sophisticated, and Pro Tools is the digital audio workstation software, which is used to make all audio type products, music, and soundtracks for movies and so on. So I do patents for them.
Oliver Strimpel (00:50:56):
It’s turned out well for me because I get to talk to the smartest engineers in the company, the most inventive ones. And it is just like it was at the Science Museum, really. I get to talk to the people I really want to talk to. And then I write about it, except this time I’m generating a legal document that has value for the company versus an educational exhibit that reaches the general public but it’s, and it’s a very different kind of writing. I mean, it relates to some of the museum writing, but I had to learn how to really have each and every word carry weight. There’s no room for throat-clearing phrases in patent law. And I love that discipline, that’s also partly why I love poetry because.
Suzie Sherman (00:51:45):
I was just going to say, I was actually literally thinking about haiku when you said that.
Oliver Strimpel (00:51:51):
Yes, but not just haiku, many poets have what I would consider to be the highest meaning per word quotient, if you like. All the poets I love like Seamus Heaney or Philip Larkin or Ted Hughes or, list goes on, they’ve managed to convey so much meaning with so few words that they’re really pushing the English language to the limit. And in patent law, you have to do that as well to some extent, in you have to write what are called claims, which define your invention at the end of every patent application and it’s a single sentence that defines what it is you think your invention is and less is more in that case.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:41):
Oliver Strimpel (00:52:42):
So I had to learn really how to pair down all the unnecessary verbiage that goes into most ordinary people’s writing. I enjoy that and then also just often working with the inventors, asking all the right questions or asking questions that I need to have for the patent. They often start thinking about their inventions in different ways and come up with new ideas and usually it’s a very positive experience for them as well. So I enjoy that aspect as well.
Suzie Sherman (00:53:07):
It’s creatively generative, it sounds like.
Oliver Strimpel (00:53:09):
Suzie Sherman (00:53:11):
You were alluding a little bit earlier to the editing work that you do or the way that you phrase questions and then the editing work that you do for your podcast and maybe how your work as a patent attorney in this way to distill concepts down to their real raw core has influenced the way that you’re designing your podcast. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Oliver Strimpel (00:53:34):
I think that’s a valid point. I think I’d rather have fewer words that are very much more on point than have more words that people have to sift through. Now, it can get a bit too dense and terse but I find, partly, the way I designed the podcast from the beginning, I also do some pretty rigorous editing. I know that two schools of thought about editing audio or speech. There are some people who think you really don’t want to do too much heavy editing because it takes away from the naturalness and it sounds more engineered and so it’s better to leave the ums and uhs and repeats and false starts of sentences and so on. But I take the opposite view that I really clean up every single repeat or “um,” or “ah,” or “you know,” or speech fillers and mannerisms that people have, I just cut them out ruthlessly. It’s a style, it’s a choice.
Suzie Sherman (00:54:31):
For sure. Your format is very much an interview as opposed to a natural conversation. And that’s not to say that it doesn’t sound organic in a sense, because I think that you’re able to accomplish both in a way using this rubric of being very aggressive about making sure that the content is dense and trimmed.
Oliver Strimpel (00:54:53):
Yeah. And people can always rewind and listen again if they want, if it goes by too fast.
Suzie Sherman (00:54:59):
I’ve done that actually with episodes.
Oliver Strimpel (00:55:00):
Suzie Sherman (00:55:02):
Oliver Strimpel (00:55:02):
Suzie Sherman (00:55:03):
Oh, no. That’s fine. I mean, I think you really enjoy this role of being a science communicator because you’ve got a lot of passion for the subjects and you’re able to harness that knowledge to ask the right questions of the researchers that you talk to. And I’m a layperson. I know next to nothing about real scientific dynamics, especially, when we’re talking about physics or chemistry. I have a very little idea of what’s going on and so for me doing a listen to one of your episodes and then listening again is helpful because, certainly, some of the stuff is going over my head. It sounds like you are a little disappointed to hear that maybe a layperson will tune in and stuff will go over their head and it’s not going to reach them, but there’s a way to engage with your podcast, I think that works. And I think, and I’m actually a fan of some information going over my head because I think that we absorb more than we think we do or that we’re conscious of. But what’s your hope about reaching laypeople with your podcast?
Oliver Strimpel (00:56:07):
I think you summarized it very well. I’d love to be able to reach laypeople. And I’m really happy to hear that you say you know next to nothing about physics and chemistry, but yet you’re able to get something out of the podcast. I fear that I would be losing people because I really don’t want to sugar-coat and water down things too much, there’s a lot of that out there, and so I fear I’m losing some people because of that. But I sort of like to think that if people are curious, that’ll carry them through the bits that they don’t understand because they want to know the answers to the questions and so maybe they can look things up or they can follow up. I try and put a bit of supplemental information on the webpage to concretize things for people a bit.
Oliver Strimpel (00:56:48):
I mean, I try and avoid jargon and I try and avoid all acronyms and make sure that people don’t use acronyms unless they explain what they are. But I think in practice, most of the people who listen, probably know something about sciences, specifically something about the physical sciences, but at the other end, I also know that several of people who I’ve interviewed, who are professional academics, have listened to all the podcasts and love them. So even if I, I’m teaching people because people, the other thing I found is that people are very siloed. This is the other thing that, in my position, I’m darting around from structural geology to tectonics, to volcanology, to paleontology, to geomorphology and at the end of every podcast, I always ask when we press the stop button, I always ask my guests, who else do they recommend?
Oliver Strimpel (00:57:41):
And they always recommend people in their field,
Suzie Sherman (00:57:43):
Um-hm, u-hm (affirmative.)
Oliver Strimpel (00:57:43):
quite close to their field, so much so that most of the recommendations are not that useful because I’ve already done their field. I’ve talked to a volcanologist about how volcanoes work, I’m not going to do another one on volcanoes immediately afterwards. I might find a different aspect, not to say I haven’t had some good recommendations, but generally speaking, I’m thinking much more out of the box. It just happened in this very recent podcast, the one I’m actually going to publish, hopefully, tomorrow or the day after about hundred-million-year-old bacteria that were brought to life and at the end of the podcast, I asked him if these bacteria can live for a hundred million years in an environment where they have virtually no nutrients whatsoever in the clay, in the abyssal clay under the South Pacific, what does that mean about life on Mars or life traveling in interstellar space?
Oliver Strimpel (00:58:34):
If they can survive in those conditions on earth, maybe they could survive in space and they could, maybe life got here from somewhere else or maybe there’s life on Mars. And I said, well, we just had an episode with the chief scientist in charge of the Perseverance Rover, Katie Stack, who talked about how they’re about to get into the part of the river delta on Jezero Crater on Mars, where they’re going to be able to dig around in the delta deposits, which are the most likely places they hope to find evidence of ancient life on Mars, a billion-year-old life. And he said, sure, if bacteria can survive a hundred million years in those conditions, what’s another order of magnitude. What’s a factor of 10. They could be survive a billion years and that’s roughly when we think there was water on Mars.
Oliver Strimpel (00:59:16):
So anyway, he didn’t really know the details of the Perseverance Rover because that’s not his thing, but that was just one example of a connection I could make and I find I’m making them all the time. I’m not the only one who thinks that if we found evidence of alien life, even simple life, it would change everything.
Suzie Sherman (00:59:31):
Oliver Strimpel (00:59:31):
I mean, I just think the world wouldn’t be the same again. It would be before discovery and after discovery.
Oliver Strimpel (00:59:38):
It’s absolutely amazing, what’s happening in that field that when I was growing up and when you were growing up too, I think, there were terms in the Drake equation, and the Drake equation is an equation that basically quantifies our ignorance about how many intelligence civilizations are out there. Is an equation that says the number of these alien intelligence is equal to the number of planets, how long they live, times the probability of there being life on it, times the probability of that life becoming intelligent, times so on and so on. And one of the factors in that was how many planets there were, and at the time we had no idea if we were just about the only planetary system in the universe or if they were common and now…
Suzie Sherman (01:00:21):
Common in habitable zones around stars, basically.
Oliver Strimpel (01:00:24):
Well, or even before that. Just do stars have planets. We didn’t even know that.
Suzie Sherman (01:00:30):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Oliver Strimpel (01:00:32):
Now we find we’ve put up the Kepler Mission and now there are whole bunch of other things that have gone up. Now, we know that planets are the norm. More stars than not have planets. And you raise a good point, of course, not all of them are in the habitable zone. Only a fraction will be, but if you do have planetary systems, the chance are you’re going to have some in the habitable zone. Of course, if the star is very bright, it’s going to be further out. And if the star is smaller and less bright, they’re going to be further in. But nonetheless, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have planets in the habitable zone because there’s no physics that says they shouldn’t be there.
Oliver Strimpel (01:01:07):
And the other thing we know, we think, is that planetary moons might be a good place for life. And we find that moons are so common in our Solar System, that in the inner Solar System, they’re not that many. I mean, Mars has two small ones, I don’t think Venus has any, Earth has one, but then once you get to Saturn and Jupiter, there’s so many of them and several of them may well have, well, we think they have oceans under the ice that Enceladus and Europa are prime candidates, maybe even Titan from methane-based life. So what I’m just saying is that this is a revolutionary period that we’re living through right now. And the chance of us discovering alien life, I think, has really shot up. Now, we don’t know if that means it goes up from one in a billion to one in a million, or whether it goes up from one in a million to one in a thousand, we don’t know how unlikely it is.
Suzie Sherman (01:02:03):
There’s a way in which you can play a role, a more interdisciplinary role, with people that you’re making contact with in different fields and there are certain scientists, I think, who are more mindful of that than others. Even back in the ’90s, I took a class at UC Santa Cruz with Donna Haraway, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her work, but she wrote a book called Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. And there was an entire board of study at UC Santa Cruz called History of Consciousness, which was meant to be an interdisciplinary science perspective, right.
Suzie Sherman (01:02:38):
Bringing in some, the anthropology and sociology and looking at them in an interdisciplinary way with biology and with technology sciences. And so that was actually a really interesting influence for me back in the early ’90s when I took that class. But it’s cool to hear your perspective on your career path and what it’s led you to, and also the way that you think, Oliver, because I think that you are someone who, you bring a more integrated perspective and a bigger conceptual perspective into more specific contexts. And I think that’s something that you’re really strong at. So, that’s exciting to hear that you might be able to be a conduit person in that way, through the podcast.
Oliver Strimpel (01:03:23):
That’d be nice if I could.
Suzie Sherman (01:03:24):
So I’m going to ask you a very Oliver Strimpel question now. If you had all the funding in the world, what would you do with it for your podcast or for the work that you want to do? If funding were no object.
Oliver Strimpel (01:03:41):
There are two things that come to mind, firstly, with respect to Geology Bites, as soon as the pandemic is over, I really would like to be able to talk to some of these people face to face. I think it brings an extra dimension. I mean, Zoom is wonderful and I think we’re having a pretty good natural interaction. I can see your face; you can see mine. But it’s not the same, I think, as if we’re in the same room and then you have all that physical interaction. I mean, intellectual interaction before you’re actually, you have a cup of coffee, you have, there’s a certain level of relationship and serendipity that I think happens. So if I had unlimited travel budget, I would zip around the world, seeing people and then probably I’d get all sorts of ideas that I’d meet other people.
Oliver Strimpel (01:04:22):
And that would be one way of doing it. I think another aspect of the funding story would be, but I suppose with money, one can buy publicity and considering it’s all just word of mouth and a little bit of publicity, I’ve managed to write for various professional association blogs. I’m not doing badly, in terms of traffic and seems like more and more people are listening and finding out about it, but I wouldn’t mind pumping a bit of money into getting it better known so that I can get the traffic up in order of magnitude or two. So instead of being in the tens of thousands, that would be great if I was the hundreds or maybe even millions, who knows how many people would enjoy it.
Suzie Sherman (01:05:01):
Do you have a sense of your trajectory about when you might be able to, or if you might be able to retire from your day job and spend more time on the podcast and on traveling, on doing what you want to with your time?
Oliver Strimpel (01:05:14):
I don’t do my day job, which by now is part-time really, because I need the money. I’m very fortunate that through my life and my wife, we’ve generally earned a bit more than we spent and so we have enough in the bank and plus, I guess, social security will come along and those things. So I think we’re okay that way.
Suzie Sherman (01:05:32):
So you’ve got some good balance between all those realms for you?
Oliver Strimpel (01:05:36):
Yeah, but it’s a good question and I think if I found the work really did get in the way I would scale it back.
Suzie Sherman (01:05:42):
Great. I’m glad that you have that opportunity. So thinking about what we’ve talked about, is there anything that you feel like fits into our conversation that you’d like to communicate?
Oliver Strimpel (01:05:53):
I think the one thing that seems you seem very interested in the links between the different pieces of my life. One of the realizations I had, was that among the things that drew me to astronomy in the first place, were trying to get a cosmic perspective on time and space. And I realized that actually right here on earth, under our feet, we have something like one third of the age of the universe in the rocks that we can pick up and hold.
Suzie Sherman (01:06:21):
Oliver Strimpel (01:06:22):
The oldest rocks are over four billion-years-old and there very common rocks in parts of the world that are approaching two billion. The universe was a very different place then, and we don’t need to have a expensive telescope or space probe just to see these things. You can just get a hammer and whack a bit out of the roadside cliff and there you have it, something that’s been intact and we can study it. So I think that to me was one of the things that made me realize that I could achieve some of my wish to connect to that big place, if you like, in which we find ourselves, by just understanding what’s under our feet, rather than looking up into the sky.
Suzie Sherman (01:07:08):
I’m really glad to be able to just bask in the wonder of your imagination and your curiosity and your appreciation for the awesomeness of the subject. It’s really lovely to be in your presence in that way and to hear that excitement from you.
Oliver Strimpel (01:07:28):
Oh, well, thank you. It’s fun talking to you.
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Suzie Sherman (01:07:30):
I really enjoyed my talk, and the whole collaboration with Oliver, on this episode. This was a different kind of conversation for me and I so appreciate Oliver’s thoughtfulness and just how easy he is to talk to about these complicated subjects. His podcast is Geology Bites and you can find at geologybites dot com or in your podcast app. A rock solid thank you to, why do you put up with me, all my patrons for making this show better, whether you’re are giving me a dollar a month or $100 a month, thank you for your support and as always a very special shoutout to my Failure and Redemption level patrons, Amy, Barry, Bonnie, Eidell, Elyse, Heather, Jeannie, Jen, Kristina, Kurt, Lisa, Liz, Marck, Melissa, and Noah, and to my Serendipity level patrons, Brittany, Dorian, Jodi, Kristi, Laurie, Micharelle and Steve and Cyndi, thank you for making your mark on this podcast, and my heart.
Suzie Sherman (01:08:34):
You too can become a patron of the show at patreon dot com slash nextthingpod. We are And The Next Thing You Know, visit the website for complete transcripts of each episode. All the social media links, all the subscribe buttons. And this is also where to find those elusive show notes that I always talk about. There are a lot of great links, references and images in the show notes for this very episode with Oliver Strimpel. So check it out at nextthingpodcast dot com. Share the show on social media with the hashtag #nextthingpod. You can also rate or review us at iTunes and email me your And The Next Thing You Know story at nextthingpod at gmail dot com. We might feature it in a future episode. The banana peel is by Max Ronnersjö. Music is by Jon Schwartz. Thanks everybody. We’ll talk before the next geological epoch…I promise.
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