Lehman Professor Takes Off as New Host of PBS Digital Astronomy Series

Lehman astrophysicist Matthew O'Dowd

When it came time to choose a new host for the immensely popular PBS digital series Space Time, the producers picked a Lehman College astrophysics professor with just the right stuff.

Matthew O’Dowd, the Australian-born Physics and Astronomy Department assistant professor, is about to launch an online video career of hosting a web series that explores the universe with intriguing episodes about black holes, the possibility of alien existence and the advantages of colonizing Venus instead of Mars. Each episode generally runs between six and 15 minutes.

O’Dowd’s inaugural Space Time episode premieres on September 23,  and can be seen on PBS digital’s  YouTube channel. This first fresh episode is entitled “Does Dark Matter Break Physics?” O’Dowd is replacing former host, Gabe Perez-Giz, an astrophysicist now at the National Science Foundation in Washington.

“Gabe has a gift for breaking down highly abstract concepts in physics into simple language, and so he did some amazing episodes on general relativity and black holes,” said O’Dowd, discussing the show’s past and future. “I hope to step it up and continue with that sort of meaty content, but I also want to talk a lot more about the “real” universe that we see through our telescopes, and discuss all of the amazing things we see out there.”

Space Time takes viewers on a journey through the universe that is a provocative mix of astronomy and physics infused with pop culture and science fiction references to Star Wars and Doctor Who. The show’s light touch about intellectually rigorous subjects has attracted more than a hundred thousand subscribers and more than 3.7 million total views.

“We refer to pop culture and science fiction all the time in the show,” says O’Dowd. “Science fiction speculates about our future, and it’s fun to talk about whether this speculation is at all realistic. Also, I think that referencing the familiar—whether general pop culture or science fiction, helps people feel more comfortable with some of the extremely unfamiliar and unintuitive concepts that we get into.”

In a special episode that announced the hosting transition from Perez-Giz to O’Dowd, the two engaged in well-choreographed Jedi cloaked lightsaber battle. During this astrophysicist clash, Perez-Giz tested O’Dowd’s knowledge of the universe with a series of challenging astronomy-related questions. He successfully ran this intellectual gauntlet, as his predecessor bid farewell.

“Matt has a good vibe on camera, and I think our audience will appreciate his clear and cogent explanations of *how* astrophysicists know what they know,” says Perez-Giz.

O’Dowd will be writing the scripts to every episode and his imagination is propelled by the first rate animation and graphics that allow the audience to accompany him on the galactic adventure. “This is exciting, interesting and unique,” he says about the experience comparing it to the classroom. “It’s a new avenue for communications that I haven’t explored yet. The production value is very nice and I’m able to imagine stuff happening around me. I wish we had animators for lectures.”

Daniel Kabat, the Department of Physics and Astronomy chair, commended Professor O’Dowd for his transition from classroom to video host.

“Professor O’Dowd is an engaging teacher,” he says.  “He’s great at making exciting ideas accessible to his students at Lehman, and it’s wonderful he’s now able to reach a much larger audience online.  It’s a great advertisement for the caliber of the physics department and for the quality of the education that Lehman can provide.  Matt’s knowledge, enthusiasm and skills as a presenter really come through in these videos.”