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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Science Unshackled’: Prof talks astronomy

Tanner+Garza+%26%238212%3B+THE+BATTALIONRenee+James%2C+author+and+Sam+Houston+State+astronomy+professor%2C+spoke+on+campus+Monday.

Tanner Garza — THE BATTALION

Renee James, author and Sam Houston State astronomy professor, spoke on campus Monday.

Renee James visited Texas A&M Monday to discuss her new book, “Science Unshackled,” and the various branches of science in general.
James has been a professor at Sam Houston State University since 1999 and largely teaches astronomy classes.
Originally trained in stellar spectroscopy, which splits the light from stars into individual wavelengths that can then be analyzed to determine a star’s characteristics, she eventually decided she wanted to do more to get students interested in scientific study.
“Somewhere around the time I got tenure I also realized I really enjoyed communicating the science to the public — not just to other scientists but to my students,” James said. “I needed to get it across to them so I started finding analogies I could use in my classes and that would lead to, ‘This isn’t found in a textbook, I’d like to write an article about this.’”
From there, James said her writing began to blossom. She has two published books — “Seven Wonders of the Universe That You Probably Took For Granted,” released in 2010, and “Science Unshackled,” released this year.
James said “Science Unshackled” contains five basic stories on curiosity, creativity and the endless potential that comes along with them. One particular chapter follows a man’s research into cone snails.
“These snails in the Pacific are quite venomous and can kill you but they haven’t exactly been a plague upon humankind — there’s been maybe a dozen deaths ever from them, but he was still curious about why they did what they did,” James said. “One of the components of the cone snail venom is now used in a very potent painkiller, but that wasn’t where he was heading with this.”
Through stories like this, James said she wants to educate people on the importance of being aware of and involved with issues going on in the scientific community. She said that while something may appear completely unrelated to people’s everyday lives, it can actually reveal amazing discoveries and insight.
“If the public doesn’t understand what scientists are doing and scientists don’t tell them what they’re doing, then it is very easy for the public to say what you’re doing isn’t worthwhile,” James said.
In addition to encouraging awareness of the natural sciences, James said she was able to speak with many A&M professors during her time on campus, allowing her to educate herself about new ideas.
“There’s just so much going on here,” James said. “Academically you’ve got undergraduates, graduates, researchers, books. The most recent person I talked to was talking about this observatory in Antarctica. The whole concept of clear dark skies for six full months — to me that’s amazing.”
Overall, James said the important takeaway from “Science Unshackled” is that it’s impossible to know where curiosity and creativity are going to lead you, and not just in the field of science.

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