Santa Barbara resident Andy Howell will appear as a host on the third season of National Geographic’s Known Universe, a series that examines various aspects of space in the fields of astronomy, physics, and aerospace engineering.
A staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network and adjunct faculty at UCSB, Howell hopes his involvement with Known Universe will help convey to potentially millions of viewers some of the “awe and wonder” he has experienced through his research of space.
“The average person can get caught up with life dramas on Earth, but life on Earth is just a tiny part of what’s going on in the universe — by studying that, we can improve our understanding of physics and life on Earth as well,” he said.
In particular, Howell appreciates the ability to perform large-scale, complicated demonstrations — detonating six-foot explosive balloons, outrunning lava, and walking on water, for example — of abstract concepts on the show, which he feels greatly contributes to the series’ educational factor. “People tend to think of physics, science, and astronomy as boring or dull, but with this show, we can make these things really engaging and fun,” he explained.
Howell’s interest in space — specifically, supernovae, dark energy, and cosmology — began at the age of five when he was introduced to popular sci-fi film Star Wars. Since then, he has pursued this passion through undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral research, acting as a member of the Supernova Legacy Survey and speaking frequently at the Kavli Institute For Theoretical Physics at UCSB. He and his research have appeared in National Geographic’s show Inside the Milky Way, various magazines and journals including Sky and Telescope and Nature, and radio and podcast programs Quirks and Quarks, BBC Leading Edge, and BBC World Service: Science in Action.
Currently, Howell is working with the Las Cumbres Observatory to build a network of telescopes around the globe, which will further the search for supernovae and extra-solar planets. In addition, Howell has been appointed cochair of the scientific organizing committee for the upcoming June conference in Australia, “Supernovae and Their Host Galaxies.”
Known Universe airs May 5, May 12, and May 19 at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.