Reaching for the Stars
“In the desert in Egypt, the skies were absolutely stunning,” said Yervant Terzian ’60, professor of physical sciences at Cornell University.“You could see thousands of stars.They looked like diamonds in the sky, and I was very curious to know why they were there. In school, I started reading anything I could get my hands on about the solar system, the planets, astronomy and the stars.”
Terzian’s study of astronomy earned him a gold medal from the Armenian Ministry of Science and Education. The award is the nation’s highest honor for scientific achievement.
After earning a bachelor’s in math and physics from AUC,Terzian embarked on a career of research and education, most recently as the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences at Cornell University in New York. He served as chair of the astronomy department there for 20 years and has received numerous awards, including AUC’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004. He is also the founder of the New York State Pew Cluster of Colleges and Universities, which supports undergraduate education in the sciences. In addition, he serves as director of NASA’s New York Space Grant Consortium, which provides educational opportunities and resources to students on both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
“The most important asset for the world this century is education,” said Terzian in an English public lecture at AUC last spring. “Science is about understanding the world and thus, making it less threatening.”
When Terzian joined AUC, he was the only physics major. Despite his passion for astronomy, he appreciated the university’s broad course offerings. “There were no astronomy courses, but physics, chemistry and math, and also history, literature and philosophy –– a broad spectrum of topics to understand the world,” he said.
Nonetheless,Terzian remembered that he brought a scientist's critical eye to all of his studies.“As a freshman, I disagreed with my English teacher on a question of logic,” he recalled.“It was about a short story called The Bridge of Saint Louis Rey, in which the bridge collapses and all the people on it perish. I claimed that since no one had survived and no one had seen it happen, how could anyone write in detail about it? She gave me a C, the worst grade I ever got.”