ESP Biography



MICHAEL SHAW, Reformed physicist, formerly of Stanford and MIT




Major: Physics

College/Employer: Stanford University

Year of Graduation: G

Picture of Michael Shaw

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Michael was the chairman of MIT ESP from 2003 to 2006. He graduated in MIT's class of 2007, with degrees in physics and mathematics He later earned his PhD in physics at Stanford University. His research focused on the astrophysics of blazars--supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies, whose radio jets are created by some of the most massive engines in the universe.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Michael is a life-long educator. While at MIT, he tutored, TAed, and later lectured 8.02 and 8.022 (freshman electromagnetism). He spent countless hours teaching for and later organizing ESP programs on all scales, an avocation he continued as co-President of Stanford University's ESP, and as Chairman, Board of Directors, of Learning Unlimited, a startup non-profit dedicated to spreading the ESP philosophy to schools across the nation.

Michael now works as a data scientist in Silicon Valley, studying how big data can help us all eat better.



Past Classes

  (Look at the class archive for more.)


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey into the Abyss in Splash 2014 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2014)
Back by popular demand! We’re going to dive right into the most massive objects in our universe—billions of times the mass of the sun. (Note: we won’t actually dive into a black hole—it’s hard to get out). When small stars die, they peter out. When massive stars die, they explode in supernovas, outshining an entire galaxy, and what’s left is a black hole, a singularity of mass so dense that even light is trapped behind. We’ll tour around a few black holes and study their effect on our daily lives. I’ll venture into wormholes, white holes, and see where we end up. We’ll even bring in a sporting interest and see how Stephen Hawking lost a bet on black holes, and how it related to the ultimate demise and even death of these most mysterious of objects. (Food for thought: how does a black hole die, anyway?) Be ready to open your minds, to be bent by the curvature of spacetime, and generally to lose yourself in the fun and beauty of the most amazing objects out there in the sky.


Guesstimation: How to think like a Scientist! in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Have you ever seen someone guess the attendance at a concert, the number of cells in the human body, or the amount of ice cream consumed daily in Boston? Do you worry that you’re not “mathy” enough to do the same? This ability is not inherent talent, or dumb luck: it’s a skill that we’ll learn! Science asks us to look analytically at the world around us—to study complexity in all its wondrous forms. We break down these mysterious problems into simple pieces that we can wrap our heads around; then, put together the jigsaw, and voila: You have done something extra-ordinary. Come ready to think outside the box and to exercise your mind in new ways. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a nationally-ranked mathematician to have fun and flex some new mental muscles!


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey into the Abyss in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Back by popular demand! We’re going to dive right into the most massive objects in our universe—billions of times the mass of the sun. (Note: we won’t actually dive into a black hole—it’s hard to get out). When small stars die, they peter out. When massive stars die, they explode in supernovas, outshining an entire galaxy, and what’s left is a black hole, a singularity of mass so dense that even light is trapped behind. We’ll tour around a few black holes, study their effect on our daily lives, and of course, the seven ways a black hole can kill you. I’ll venture into wormholes, white holes, and other exotics. We’ll even bring in a sporting interest and talk about how Stephen Hawking once lost a bet on black holes, and how it was related to the ultimate demise and even death of these most mysterious of objects. (Food for thought: how does a black hole die, anyway?) Be ready to open your minds, to be bent by the curvature of spacetime, and generally to lose yourself in the fun and beauty of the most amazing objects out there in the sky.


Supernovae and the Expanding Universe in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
“When I had satisfied myself that no star of that kind had ever shone before, I was led into such perplexity by the unbelievability of the thing that I began to doubt the faith of my own eyes. ” — T. Brahe. Supernovas are among the most spectacular shows in the heavens. And earlier this month, observations of distant supernovae won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their role as a probe of the expanding universe. These massive explosions help keep the heavens in line, and provide our best constraints on supposedly faster than light neutrinos. Bring your questions and join us for an explosive discourse on what supernovae are, how they explode, and what we can learn from them.


The 99% -- Here and Abroad in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
Who are the 99%? Why are they occupying Wall Street? How do these protests relate to ongoing unrest in Europe and around the world? Bring your thoughts and ideas. This will be a roundtable discussion of some of the most important issues of our day.


Science And Society Roundtable in Spark! 2011 (Mar. 12, 2011)
A discussion of the role of science in society. Should scientists more publicly spread and back up their beliefs about the world? Or should they get back to their labs and focus on what they do best? Is greater scientific literacy important? We will discuss these questions and more. Please come prepared with your questions, your burning desires for answers.


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey into the Abyss in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Back by popular demand! We’re going to dive right into the most massive objects in our universe—billions of times the mass of the sun. (Note: we won’t actually dive into a black hole—it’s hard to get out). When small stars die, they peter out. When massive stars die, they explode in supernovas, outshining an entire galaxy, and what’s left is a black hole, a singularity of mass so dense that even light is trapped behind. We’ll tour around a few black holes, study their effect on our daily lives, and of course, the seven ways a black hole can kill you. I’ll venture into wormholes, white holes, and other exotics. We’ll even bring in a sporting interest and talk about how Stephen Hawking once lost a bet on black holes, and how it was related to the ultimate demise and even death of these most mysterious of objects. (Food for thought: how does a black hole die, anyway?) Be ready to open your minds, to be bent by the curvature of spacetime, and generally to lose yourself in the fun and beauty of the most amazing objects out there in the sky.


Time Travel and the Fourth Dimension in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
People have been fascinated by the idea of playing with time for generations. Whether in a Tardis or a DeLorean, or perhaps the Starship Enterprise, our culture is inundated by fictional characters who travel through time as we do space. Lets meet in the here and now to discuss the there and then. We'll see how fiction portrays time travel, and what science has to say. Einstein teaches us that time is not so absolute as we might think, and modern physics proposes tantalizingly plausible universes full of higher dimensions, and closed time-like curves. Join us on our quest through time, as we study the future, the past, and paradoxes of all varieties. Go home and tell your friends that you are an expert in temporal mechanics.


Guesstimation: How To Think Like a Scientist in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Have you ever seen someone guess the attendance at a concert, the number of cells in the human body, or the amount of ice cream consumed daily in Boston? Do you worry that you're not "mathy" enough to do the same? This ability is not inherent talent, or dumb luck: it's a skill that we'll learn! Science asks us to look analytically at the world around us--to study complexity in all its wondrous forms. We break down these mysterious problems into simple pieces that we can wrap our heads around; then, put together the jigsaw, and voila: You have done something extra-ordinary. Come ready to think outside the box and to exercise your mind in new ways. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or a nationally-ranked mathematician to have fun and flex some new mental muscles!


A Bit Of Everything! in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Choose up to four whirlwind discussions and question-and-answer sessions about: Facts and myths about our universe: A chat about modern physics, what we know and what we don't know. We'll answer questions about stories you've heard regarding curved space, quantum teleportation, dark energy, strings, and whatever else you want to know. International Development: 1 billion people in the world do not have access to water, 29,000 children under the age of 5 die every day, and half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. How do we even start to solve these problems? Protein cascades: how hormones and other external signaling factors can cause drastic changes in a cell's behavior through a series of astonishingly specific protein-protein interactions. Paradoxes: The next sentence is false. The previous sentence is true. This topic will amuse only those students who are not amused by it. Geoengineering: Geoengineering is what it sounds like - world engineering. Some scientists are proposing massive changes to our planet to combat global warming, like putting giant mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, or building giant, carbon filtering trees. Group Theory: What if you could "add" things that weren't numbers? We'll explore the theory of mathematical objects that allow for combining two elements with rules that mimic addition, and explore what kinds of objects we can get. Telescopes: From Galileo to the summit of Mauna Kea, learn how these pieces of glass have let us glimpse into the heavens; how astronomy, the oldest science, is born anew.


Health Care Reform OR Is The Government Broken in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
For the past year, the US has been embroiled in a debate over health care. We all know that the status quo is unsustainable, as anyone with a pre-existing condition will testify. But there is great consternation over possible solutions, and their impacts on you and me. Join us for a one hour discussion on how the American health care system got into its current state, why effecting change is so difficult, and possible roads forward from the current deadlock.


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey into the Abyss in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Back by popular demand! We’re going to dive right into the most massive objects in our universe—billions of times the mass of the sun. (Note: we won’t actually dive into a black hole—it's hard to get out). When small stars die, they peter out. When massive stars die, they explode in supernovas, outshining an entire galaxy, and what's left is a black hole, a singularity of mass so dense that even light is trapped behind. We’ll tour around a few black holes, study their effect on our daily lives, and of course, the seven ways a black hole can kill you. I’ll venture into wormholes, white holes, and other exotics. We’ll even bring in a sporting interest and talk about how Stephen Hawking once lost a bet on black holes, and how it was related to the ultimate demise and even death of these most mysterious of objects. (Food for thought: how does a black hole die, anyway?) Be ready to open your minds, to be bent by the curvature of spacetime, and generally to lose yourself in the fun and beauty of the most amazing objects out there in the sky.


What is a liberal education? in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Many of you will end up in college in the not so distant future. You may be deciding between "liberal arts" colleges offering a well-rounded education, and technical schools providing more focused training. Howsoever can you choose? Our nation is in the midst of a standards-based revolution, with the No Child Left Behind Act the epitome thereof. Teachers are told precisely which facts students are to know, and they teach you the same, but is this the right way to go about education? Should schools tell you what to learn? More fundamentally, what should we all know? Patrons of the liberal arts believe that widespread knowledge of Shakespeare make our country better. Scientists say that unless most people learn more about evolution, about global warming, that we face impending catastrophe. Is this just specialists arguing for the supremacy of their field, or is there truth to their assertions? We will spend the class probing our own ideas about a liberal education, about what we all should know to be good citizens, good people. You will come out of this class with a sense of the variety of perspectives in the world, and a firmer grasp of your own thoughts on the issue.


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
We're going to dive right in to the most massive objects in our universe, billions of times the mass of the sun. (Note: we won't actually dive into a black hole--it's hard to get out). When small stars die, they peter out. When massive stars die, they explode in supernovas, outshining an entire galaxy, and what's left is a black hole, a singularity of mass so dense that even light is trapped behind. We'll tour around a few black holes, study their effect on our daily lives, and of course, the seven ways a black hole can kill you. I'll venture into wormholes, white holes, and other exotics, and we'll even bring in a sporting interest and talk about how Stephen Hawking once lost a bet on black holes, and how it was related to the ultimate demise and even death of these most mysterious of objects. (Food for thought: how does a black hole die, anyway?) Be ready to open your minds, to be bent by the curvature of spacetime, and generally to lose yourself in the fun and beauty of the most amazing objects out there in the sky.


Some Fun with Astronomy in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Imagine life as an astronomer. You're trying to figure out whats happening billions of miles away. Your only tool is whatever light happens to reach Earth through billions of miles of gas and dust. In this course, we begin to investigate this problem using all the tools at our disposal. We'll start off with a brief history of astronomy, and then spend most of the class talking about some modern problems in the field--about the life cycle of stars, and the structure of the universe itself. Come prepared with your own questions, and we'll do our best to answer them!


To the Stars: A Course in Modern Astronomy in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Imagine life as an astronomer. You're trying to figure out whats happening billions of miles away. Your only tool is whatever light happens to reach Earth, through billions of miles of gas and dust--not to mention everything else in the universe. In this course, we begin to investigate this problem, using all the tools at our disposal. We'll start off with a brief history of astronomy, and then spend most of the class talking about some modern problems in the field--about the life cycle of stars, and the structure of the universe itself, and how we use the limited data available on earth to solve them. At the end, I'll discuss my research into blazars--supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies all across the universe.


Why Science Matters in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
What is science, anyway? And why does it matter? Why should we worry that Kansas's Board of Education removed the word "natural" from their definition of science a few years ago? Or that neither presidential candidate this year agreed to participate in a debate about science? Our society is woefully un-informed about science, and yet, science is manifestly important to our future: A former US Treasury Secretary once said "If you didn't know the name of five plays by Shakespeare, you would be embarrassed to admit it," he said. "But if you didn't know the difference between a gene and a chromosome, that's a technical subject." And he was running Harvard at the time. The true challenges of our age--global warming, the energy crisis, and religious extremism have one thing in common. Science can help in their solutions--but the world hasn't yet come to accept this fact. We will sit down and discuss both the importance of science in solving such problems, and what we, as young Americans, can do about them.


The Future of America in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States of America has enjoyed a status as the world's only superpower. That era is rapidly coming to a close. We will discuss the challenges facing America on military, economic, and cultural fronts, and formulate ideas for how our generation can solve them. On the military front, America's traditional military supremacy remains unmatched. However, nuclear proliferation is rapidly changing the landscape for mutually assured destruction, providing more nation-states with a nuclear deterrent. Meanwhile, international terrorism is changing the rules, allowing individuals and small groups to challenge nations. On the economic front, America's infrastructure is rapidly falling behind. The disaster after Katrina, the bridge collapse in Minnesota, the lack of effective mass transit, all lead to the inescapable conclusion that America is trying to build a 21st century nation on 20th century infrastructure. Financial institutions are moving from New York to Hong Kong and London. Technology companies are building facilities in China, India and Taiwan rather than Silicon Valley. We need immediate and large-scale improvements to continue our storied history of economic and technological leadership. On the cultural front, it can no longer be said that American citizenship is a passport to the world. Our country is seen more for our military than for our freedoms—people see the Pentagon rather than the Statue of Liberty. Since I last taught this class at Splash, some fascinating developments have come to pass. How does the phenomenal story of the 2008 presidential primaries fit into this picture? Is America breaking out of its apathy? Is it too little, too late? Let us gather to discuss these issues. If you think I am wrong, come and tell me. If you have ideas, bring them to the discussion. This is not, nor should it be a lecture, and I expect full participation of everybody in the room. You will dictate the course of the conversation as much as, or more than, I will.


Active Galactic Nuclei: The Universe's Most Powerful Engines in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
At the heart of some galaxies are powerful beasts: supermassive black holes, billions of times the mass of the sun, accreting matter at unbelievable rates. These active galactic nuclei (AGN) outshine the brightest supernova, and we can see them on the other side of the observable universe (out past redshift 5). In this class, we will study these fantastic beasts, how they work, and how we can see them. Read up the basics on wikipedia, and come prepared for a fast-paced, whirlwind of modern astrophysics. We will study the concept of redshift as a proxy for distance. You will learn how accretion onto massive objects is limited by radiation pressure. We will breeze through the fundamentals of black holes, of galaxy structure, and of cosmology. Focusing on AGN, we will study the various observable flavors thereof: the blazars, quasars, QSOs, FSRQs, BLLs, and the rest of the alphabet soup. We'll talk about how we observe them, and what new telescopes in 2008 will help us see them like never before. We will cover the physical processes that generate their tremendous emission, and just why the sheer magnitude of these objects is so ridiculous (did I mention billion solar mass black holes?) I plan on having a blast, and I hope you'll come along for the ride. Come prepared to participate, with your questions, and with answers to mine!


Back of the Envelope Physics in SPLASH (2007)
Some physicists use Beowulf clusters with 500+ computer networked together, working for months to do "simple" calculations. Others use the ...


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey in SPLASH (2007)
We're going to dive right in to the most massive objects in our universe--billions of times the mass of the ...


The Future of America in SPLASH (2007)
Since the end of the cold war, the United States of America has enjoyed a status as the world's only ...


This is a Test in HSSP (2006)
Grades 10 to 11 15 to 21 students VP,AA Testing 123


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey into the Abyss in FIREHOSE (2006)
We're going to dive right in to the most massive objects in our universe--billions of times the mass of the ...


A Brief History of Space in SPLASHONWHEELS (2006)
The history of the universe has fascinated men for thousands of years. People have come up with new explanations for ...


On Black Holes, Singularities, and the Event Horizon: A Journey into the Abyss in SPLASH (2006)
We're going to dive right in to the most massive objects in our universe--billions of times the mass of the ...


Whats Relative about Relativity?: An excursion into spacetime in SPLASH (2006)
An introduction to relativity using no mathematics at all.* Covers spacetime diagrams, and pictorially understanding of special relativity. Analyzes standard ...


Why Science Matters in SPLASH (2006)
What is science, anyway? And why does it matter? Why should we worry that Kansas's Board of Education removed the ...


A Whirlwind Tour of Particle Physics in SPLASH (2005)
Physicists love to talk about particles: the Higgs boson, the strange quark, the pi meson, the muon neutrino, and my ...


Breakfast with the ESP Chairman in SPLASH (2005)
Come bring your breakfast to a roundtable discussion with Michael Shaw, this year's ESP chairman. ESP, the Educational Studies Program, ...


New Test Class in SPLASH (2005)
This is a new test class


test class in SPLASH (2005)
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You're P R O B A B L Y Right in SPLASH (2005)
Mathematics is the only truly universal language--or is it? 80% of this country does not understand simple probability. We're out ...


A Brief Survey of Particle Physics in SPLASH (2004)
Physicists love to talk about particles: the Higgs boson, the strange quark, the pi meson, the muon neutrino, and my ...


Design This Site! in SPLASH (2004)
The ESP website is designed for you, by you. We have the templates, and we want to teach you how ...


Real Men Program in C in SPLASH (2004)
We're going to take a whirlwind journey into the world's most successful programming language. No programming experience required! C has ...


To the Stars: A Course in Modern Astronomy in SPLASH (2004)
Imagine life as an astronomer. You're trying to figure out whats happening billions of miles away. Your only tool is ...