The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt.

Today I just gave my student colloquium, which is part of the compulsory things we have to do as Leiden Observatory‘s MSc student in astronomy. You can look at the presentation slides here (I hope the 17 Megs size don’t put you off from looking!).

The talk was about the result of my research project that I do for my master thesis. Since they gave me 40 minutes of time to give my talk and my project is kinda boring (it’s only filled with so-and-so tools of analysis and reduction that nobody cares about) with no exciting result whatsoever, I then put some more motivations and historical background in my introduction, just to spice-up things. In the first slide there is Rembrandt‘s famous painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (See Asterix‘s parody of the painting here). What the hell is this gory (some people said so, although I beg to differ) picture doing in the opening slide? Well… I want to say that doing Galactic structure is like doing anatomy of human bodies: we study a corpus and try to understand how does it works. We dissect the body, observe one component in detail and assemble the components back together and try to get a greater picture. Of course there are complications in studying the Galaxy since we can only observe and can not experiment with it (only in computer simulation is that possible) and sometimes it is difficult to discern different components of a galaxy. Some anatomists noted that Rembrandt’s depiction of muscles and tendons are quite accurate. I saw the painting in Mauritshuis, it is really a big painting. My friend said the painting is gory. Aaww c’mon, it’s not melting Nazis.

The Origin of the Milky Way by Tintoretto.

In another slide I also put another painting: Tintoretto‘s The Origin of the Milky Way. Yikes, gratuitous frontal nudity! Naked flying boys! FPI might wanted to raid my talk because there was pornography in my talk! Hahahaha… After one slides covering the development of our present knowledge about The Milky Way, I summarized the whole progress by saying that our picture about The Milky Way has evolved from spilled-milk-in-the-sky-because-a-demigod-tried-to-suckle-the-breast-of-a-god, which was told by the ancient Greeks, into gazillions-of-stars-move-together-forming-a-disc-because-of-their-mutual-gravitation, which is the findings of modern science. Hey dudes, nudity was a common thing back in ancient Greece. In the olympic games people were contesting in the nude, can you imagine THAT happens in Beijing? 😀

I haven’t heard the audience’s comment about the gory and carnal pictures, but I think they like the talk. People have said so. Of course they like it, who else got this brilliant idea to put gore and nudity in a scientific talk? That is a surefire recipe that has worked in numerous Hollywood movies (I have to admit that there were a lot more crappy things with gratuitous gore and nudity), why can’t it work in a scientific talk? What can possibly go wrong?

At the end of the talk, I put a quotation in Dutch. And then I went on explaining the slide in Dutch. After that, I switched to the English translation and explained it again in English. I have to do that translation thing of course otherwise people would be pissed (Dutch? eugh…). The Dutch quotation was, of course, another lame excuse to show off my Dutch to the general public… 😀 I’ve already did that in Paris by the way, I gave an introduction and closing in French. It was a lame but brave stunt, but I have to keep doing that. That’s a surefire way to learn languages, always find a chance to speak it.

At the end of the show, Jan Lub (he was there to grade my talk) asked tough questions that I can only answer with “I don’t know.” I guess he was very impressed with my showmanship he assumed that I know everything. Of course, to his dismay, I am not. But he said my talk was “very well done” and gave me 8.5/10 for the talk.

Not bad at all, eh?

Written by Tri L. Astraatmadja

After living for 10 years in Europe as a Master's student, PhD researcher, and a postdoc, in 2016 Tri L. Astraatmadja moved on to the United States for a second postdoctoral appointment at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington DC. He is now in his third postdoc at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD.

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