Alyssa A. Goodman, the Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy at Harvard University, wants to learn how the universe works, and she wants others to learn too. Her work spans astronomy, data visualization, science education, and the use of technology in academic research and teaching. Recently, she has focused on how the long filamentary clouds she named the Bones of the Milky Way can be used to trace out our galaxy’s structure.
Making predictions based on theory and on data has only been the scientific way for the past 400 years or so; before that, there was much more reliance on what we would call philosophy. Goodman is currently leading the creation of the most modular HarvardX online course yet created, called PredictionX. Twenty-five faculty members are participating in conversations with Goodman about the history of how humanity has predicted its own future, from ancient Mesopotamians reading signs in sheep entrails to modern computer simulation of climate change. At Radcliffe, Goodman is working on a companion book for PredictionX, currently titled “The Past and Present of the Future.”
Goodman earned an undergraduate degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her PhD in physics from Harvard. She was a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the Harvard faculty. She won the 1997 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy, was elected a fellow of the AAAS in 2009, and was selected the 2015 Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation.