Galileo’s Biographer: Dava Sobel visits Northeast State June 12

Dava Sobel redefined the notion of Galileo the man and made science clear and cool with her insightful books about scientific evolution in the Western world.

Northeast State welcomes the best-selling author of Galileo’s Daughter and The Planets to campus on June 12 at 2 p.m. for a public presentation about the work of the Roman astronomer who changed the western world at the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts.

Galileo’s Daughter revisits the life of the legendary Italian scientist through the eyes of his eldest daughter, a cloistered nun. Their loving relationship, traced through actual correspondence, overturns the myth of Galileo as an enemy of the Catholic Church.

Sobel based her book on 124 surviving letters to Galileo from his eldest child.  She translated the letters from the original Italian and used them to elucidate Galileo’s life work.

Although his discoveries in astronomy made Galileo famous, his writings brought him to trial before the Inquisition, after which he was forced to deny his own beliefs. Ironically, his definition of the relationship between science and religion has since become the Church’s official position.

Galileo’s Daughter won the 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for science and technology, a 2000 Christopher Award, and was a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in biography. The paperback edition enjoyed five consecutive weeks as the #1 New York Times nonfiction bestseller.  A sequel, Letters to Father, containing the full text of Galileo’s daughter’s correspondence in both English and Italian, was published by Walker in 2001. An English-only edition, a Penguin “Classic,” followed in 2003.

In her 30 years as a science journalist she has written for many magazines, including Audubon, Discover, Life and The New Yorker, served as a contributing editor to Harvard Magazine and Omni, and co-authored five books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake.

From January through March 2006, Ms. Sobel served as the Robert Vare Nonfiction Writer in Residence at the University of Chicago, where she taught a seminar in science writing while pursuing research on her new project—a stage play about sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, called And the Sun Stood Still.

Sobel is a featured speaker of the annual Lyceum Lecture Series at Northeast State.  Additional information, contact 423.279.7669 or e-mail

Gavel machining a tradition at graduation

At spring commencement ceremonies Northeast State graduates walk away with associate degrees and technical certificates.

Speakers delivering the commencement’s keynote address get to keep a well-honed tool crafted by students from the College’s Machine Tool program.

Students enrolled in machining classes have produced the gilded ceremonial gavels used by commencement speakers throughout the College’s history.  Past keynote speakers including receive the gavels as gifts to mark their speeches at graduation.

“We started machining the gavels at least a decade ago and it became a tradition for every graduation,” said Sam Rowell, associate professor of the machine tool and manufacturing technology programs at Northeast State.

Students begin with a light yet solid composite of round silver aluminum.  The metal is measured and cut into equal sizes that form the gavel’s familiar round shape used to strike a sound block.

The students take over and the machining process begins with students applying their machining knowledge to the project.  Students use CAD to input cutting sequences that will be transferred into the CNC milling machine.

“We use a program to diagram a model and use the computer to set the milling movement,” said Jonathan Light, a Machine Tool major from Kingsport.

Students input the design into the CNC lathe machine that follows the design to chisel grooves into the aluminum cylinder.  The design created with CAD develops a model for CNC milling process to form the raw metal into the familiar smooth-ridged gavel block.

“The machining lathe cuts each groove into the metal when we program the movement,” said Bo Carr, also a Machine Tool major from Kingsport.  “You adjust the machining because the process can throw off the cut over time.”

The handle undergoes a similar process of cut, computer design and milling.  A rounded brass band is then secured where the gavel head and handle meet. Students then engrave “Northeast State” on the handle and a polished instrument of order is done.

Machine Tool and Manufacturing Technology students tackle semester-long projects using CNC machining and milling technology.  Rowell said the gavel was but one example of how engineers and machinist collaborate to translate designs into physical objects.

“Engineers design a concept and they get together with the manufacturing engineers to make it into a functioning product,” said Rowell. “It mirrors the engineering world of concept and creation.”

The Northeast State spring commencement ceremony begins at 7 p.m. on May 11 in Memorial Center at East Tennessee State University.