“The Time Lord*”: A Weird Interview with Mark Subbarao
Mark, if you have to describe what you do to your grand grandmother, what would you tell her?
I work in the planetarium, and planetariums are pretty awesome, but I want to make them super awesome! One of the things that I want to do is to make the planetariums more sciencey, combining the worlds I have lived in science research and outreach and move them closer together.
And the Space Visualization Lab at the Adler Planetarium is one of those places that has outreach but also presents a lot of research.
Yeah, so the idea came because we had a lot of cool research and visualizations [e.g. big screens] but they were big and didn’t fit into our offices so we needed a place to keep them all there! So, it was nice to have a big place that was pretty chill and you could hang out and talk about sciencey stuff.
[The Space Visualization Lab is a room full of 2D, 3D screens and wall projectors, surfaces and Kinect controls that visitors can interact with and every day 2 scientists come to the lab to talk to visitors about their research and the public’s topics of interest. ]
Ok, now the weird part of the conversation! If you could have any superpower what would you want to have?
I just finished watching the defenders [they were kinda B list] you know flying is cool, definitely would like to fly…it’s tough…it depends on how far you go…I’m thinking of something that can get me to space…Superman goes into space, a little bit, I’m not sure about the physics of it. Flash could do some cool things with time, the physics is also a little weird. This idea of freezing time and playing with time…I don’t know if time travel is a Superpower?
Well, Flash is a Superhero and he can also time travel. Also, there is Doctor Who that “I” count as a Superhero…and he time travels!
Yeah playing with time and running it fast and slow would be cool. That’s kinda of what we do at this lab! A lot of visualizations is about looking in the past and future of the universe, changing timelines to super slow and fast and different views of the world.
So you kinda already have that Superpower but in a different context! Now, what’s your favorite fictional job?
Here’s my internal debate, if I let myself go to magical world or not. I have always been a fan of hard science fiction like our world, but like the future, in that case, a Starship captain, or maybe…captain is kind of annoying to be though…maybe science officer? You get to go on the away team but you don’t get killed, so that’s good. But I don’t have to deal with all the politics of being a captain, you’re not put on trial as often!
What fictional vehicle would you want to have?
What was that thing they build in Contact? That spun around and went to a wormhole. I want that one! I also like the fact that they didn’t really know what it was that they were building! So a portal that gets you from one place to another, that kind of wormhole would be amazing.
Which band would you want to hang out with for a whole day?
Well, I’m into jazz and space. Unfortunately right before I come to Chicago Sun Ra passed away. Sun Ra and his Arkestra put on a pretty amazing show. He believed he was from Saturn, so he’d be pretty fun to talk to.
Last question, what would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time?
I was kind of lucky to get into something I really like to do. I think the big piece of advice would be to do the things that you are interested in and maybe prioritise that over things that you think you’re supposed to be doing.
I asked Mark what he likes in his office and he pointed at this star finder. I used this when I was back in Iran and took it with me to US. Growing up, being an astronomer was a dream to me and Mark accepted me as an intern at the Space Visualization Lab. The closest I could become to an astronomer! I gave this to Mark at the end of my internship as a thank you gift!
* ” The Time Lords were inhabitants of the planet Gallifrey [from the TV series Doctor Who], who were most famous for the creation and attempted monopolisation of time travel technology” from tardis.wikia.com