SFU Physics grad sets his sights on the stars

September 29, 2023

Like many people who study sciences, science fiction was the gateway, or should we say wormhole, that attracted SFU alumnus Malcolm Pidsosny to physics.

“When I was a kid, like really really young, I was enamoured with natural disasters,” he says. “Super storms and weather events like lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes, or the incredible power of our Earth in the form of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes.” He wanted to be a meteorologist or a volcanologist, and because of his enthusiasm he was able to meet News 1130 meteorologist Russ Lacate.

But it was watching the film Interstellar with a friend that opened his eyes to the fascinating world of physics. “It introduced me to the abstract concepts of time dilation due to gravity in the theory of general relativity. I knew there could be nothing in the entire universe more fascinating than these theories,” Pidsosny says.

He saw it again when his high school physics teacher used it to introduce the concept of special relativity. “Talk about an introduction to one of the coolest topics I have ever learned about in school,” he says.

So when professor Joanna Woo introduced herself and the Trottier Observatory at the Physics Research Jamboree Pidsosny knew he needed to get involved, and immediately applied to help with outreach.

“This was a chance to gaze at the stars in a way I had never experienced, talk to people, share with them the knowledge I had gained in physics and astronomy, and learn more than I ever had about the night sky from the people that surrounded me.”

While at SFU he also had the chance to get hands-on experience working in the Physical Volcanology Research Group with SFU Earth Sciences researchers Glyn Williams-Jones and Yannick Le Moigne.

“We were analyzing wave formations of lava flows using Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) from LiDAR to find the relationship between the viscosity (and therefore composition of the lava) and the properties of the waveforms they created.”

“It was an incredible experience for me, and I am so thankful for Dr. Glyn and everyone else I worked with giving me their time and support with it.”

Still, juggling school work and his extracurricular commitments could be challenging at times. “This is a difficult degree,” he says, “and managing my time with it all just made it incredibly stressful.” Pidsosny managed, thanks in part to the network of friends he made in class and at the observatory.

“I was pretty terrified when I came to SFU at first just because I was a transfer student and many of the people I was taking classes with probably already had their own friend groups. What I found instead were good people and better friends.”

“I don’t think I ever could have done it without any of them. They are amazing people.”

Pidsosny is applying for grad school to continue studying astrophysics, but for now, he continues to work at the Trottier Observatory, helping inspire the public with his love of space.

“I think some of my favourite memories I have had while working there come from talking to people in line about the weird stuff in physics. Teaching them about time dilation in general and special relativity, or about the crazy scale of the universe we live in. The fascination you see in people’s faces, especially kids who are share these interests, has made me feel whole.”