David Garfinkle makes physics less daunting

Dean Vaglia, Staff Distributor

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When it comes to physics, people can find themselves lost among the labyrinth of math and science. However, to many students at Oakland University, professor David Garfinkle serves as a valuable guide to the vast and confusing world of physics.

Garfinkle teaches about half of the physics courses offered at Oakland. On top of his teaching load, he is also conducting research on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

This research is specifically on black holes, the big bang and gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are like radio waves, but are created by collisions of black holes or neutron stars, detected by lasers, and measured by vibrations in pipes. He also runs simulations on possible theories regarding what caused the big bang.

Hailing from Manhattan, NY, Garfinkle’s academic career has taken him across the United States. Originally “crossing the river” to Princeton, he later ended up going to the University of Chicago for graduate school. After earning his Ph.D from Chicago in 1985, he took on post-hoc jobs for two years at Washington University in St. Louis, University of Florida — Gainesville and the University of California —Santa Barbara.

In 1991, Garfinkle left the sun-soaked beaches of California for an assistant professor job at Oakland’s Department of Physics. The crueler weather hasn’t scared him off and he has been at Oakland for the past 26 years.

This semester, Garfinkle is teaching his first-ever class on cosmology, which he is looking forward to.  Cosmology, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the “branch of astronomy that deals with the origin, structure, and space-time relationships of the universe.”

“It’s fun because I get to learn new stuff,” Garfinkle said. “The science fiction writer Douglas Adams had a quote on this where he says ‘Space is big! Really really big!’ and that’s a good way to start out but you have to figure out where to go on from there.”

To people who are interested in physics but feel as though they might not be the best at it, Garfinkle says, “When I teach physics, there is really only one formula in this class, and it is F = M/A and everything else you want, you can just derive from that. So even if you have a bad memory, then physics may be easier for you than other courses.”

Garfinkle has published many works about his field of research, one being a paper on string theory that has been so frequently cited that he has occasionally been misattributed as a pioneer of string theory (which he is not), as well as the book “Three Steps to the Universe,” which helps explain concepts like the big bang and dark matter to a general audience. “Three Steps” can be found on Amazon.