Hooked on Stars, Planets and Gravitational Waves

Outside class, physics professor Ronen Plesser climbs rocks and paraglides

Ronen Plesser, a Duke professor of physics, runs the Duke Teaching Observatory in Duke Forest. Photo by April Dudash

Name: Ronen Plesser    Position: Professor of physics Years at Duke: 17What I do at Duke: I teach all kinds of classes. It’s one of the things I like about Duke. I’ve taught pre-med physics, physics major classes and I’m now teaching graduate student physics classes. There was one semester that was my favorite – I taught, in the same semester, the introductory astronomy class for non-science majors and the general relativity class for graduate students. At one point in the semester, we were talking about black holes in both classes.If I had $5 million, I would: Travel more. I have a huge list of places, but I haven’t had time because I have five kids, and the youngest is 17. I want to go to the mountains, mostly.My dream job: I’m in it. What I get to do is basically get paid to do two things that I love. One is to sit around and read other people’s brilliant ideas and come up with whatever little things I can about how the universe works. The other part is to teach people the same fun stuff. If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: Physics. “What are these gravitational waves they keep talking about on the radio?” I like that starter. I like talking to people about their kids and my kids. Music I like: Bach. Listening to him is almost like solving a physics problem, in some ways. There’s a math problem going on inside the music that makes it a lot of fun to listen to.The best advice I ever received: Remember that every day that goes by in your life is irretrievably gone. Make sure at the end of the day you’ve actually done something that is worthwhile. I find that if you’re a little bit more careful about how you define “worthwhile,” if you’re a little bit more generous with the definition, then that’s a very good way to live.When I’m not at work, I like: rock climbing and paragliding. I’m not a great rock climber, but I’m a very enthusiastic rock climber. (His favorite local sites are Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park near Winston-Salem. Paragliding typically requires a drive out to Roanoke, Va.) I was one of those kids who grew up building model airplanes and dreaming about flying. Most memorable moments at Duke: The kind of day I like, and there have been several of those, are days when some problem that we’ve been working on (He works on research with graduate students and outside collaborators), suddenly it all adds up. It’s clear, and sometimes it’s the end of a huge calculation.