SHE is a Science Superstar. SHE is an Passionate Preceptor. SHE is Amber Porter, our SHEro!
Amber Porter is a lecturer in the Physics and Astronomy department in the College of Science at Clemson University, and the lead coordinator for the Eclipse Over Clemson event!
More often than not, her students are not STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors. “They are often curious about astronomy topics, but feel that science is too hard and ‘not for them.’ Helping students overcome this fear and convincing them that they can ‘do’ science is the most rewarding part of my job,” she says.
“My goal as an astronomy teacher is simple; I desire to pass my fascination with the cosmos on to each student and to increase their confidence in their personal scientific literacy by developing their critical thinking skills. My favorite concept to teach is most eloquently expressed through Carl Sagan’s famous quote, “We are made of star stuff.” The elements such as the iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones and the oxygen passing through your lungs were created deep in the bellies of stars similar to our very own sun long ago and continue to be made by stars today. Nuclear fusion, which powers stars, also creates the elements of the periodic table beyond hydrogen and helium. When stars die in fiery explosions after shining for millions of years, those elements are thrown out into space in every direction and seed clouds that will make new generations of stars that may grow planets that then have the elements necessary to harbor life. It is amazing to think about the recycling process that our universe has been undergoing for nearly 14 billion years which has allowed human beings to exist.”
She also enjoys informing students that a person who identifies as a physicist or astronomer is not a carbon copy of Einstein and their lives don’t always play out like an episode of The Big Bang Theory. She reminds them that scientists are regular people of all genders and backgrounds who like to answer questions about the natural world (and universe). Being able to share those discoveries with a wider audience by using less technical language and connections to everyday life is why she likes being a lecturer in higher education.
Ms. Porter is the lead coordinator for the Eclipse Over Clemson event (which is the viewing party that Clemson University is hosting to celebrate the total solar eclipse on August 21). The chance to see the beautiful corona of the Sun during totality of a solar eclipse from our own backyard is an opportunity that she does not want any of our Upstate South Carolina citizens to miss. Previous generations were inspired by humans strapping themselves on to rockets that placed them in outer space and watching people walk on the Moon. Her hope is that witnessing a celestial event as awe-inspiring as a total solar eclipse will inspire our youth to pursue scientific and technologically advanced careers. Putting together a monumental event like Eclipse Over Clemson takes a lot of teamwork from across the university. She loves that her main role is talking to people about the science behind eclipses and ensuring that they know how to safely look at the Sun using eclipse glasses. She is also looking forward to turning our community members into citizen scientists by teaching them about the various projects centered around the eclipse that they can get involved in and what we hope to learn through their hard work. Some of the projects include measuring how much the temperature drops or how nature responds to the darkening sky during an eclipse.
Ms. Porter interacts with the community through education and public outreach with astronomy and physics. She’s traveled through the cosmos with audiences of all ages over the past six years through planetarium shows in Clemson University’s digital planetarium. The planetarium projects the night sky from anywhere on Earth, so students can take a close-up look at each of the planets of the solar system, and fly among the stars so astronomy comes alive in movies that play on a 360-degree dome above the audience. Her outreach efforts have increased substantially over the past few months as she tries to engage as many people as possible so that they don’t miss the solar eclipse.
Ms. Porter recently joined the Upstate Roller Girl Evolution (URGE), a roller derby team that plays out of Easley, South Carolina. She goes by “Dr. Disintegrator.” Her roller derby team partners with a good cause each season to donate time and money. This season, they chose to support All Dogs of Pickens Transport (ADOPT) which saves unwanted dogs and cats prior to their euthanization and helps find them new, loving homes. A portion of the proceeds from home games is donated to ADOPT and they also volunteer at the shelter to help clean kennels and socialize the dogs.
In her spare time, Ms. Porter devours books from any genre and enjoys spending time outside wandering around local parks or chasing waterfalls on hikes. She likes to travel to new cities to explore the local culture and visit the interactive museums in the area. She also enjoys spending time relaxing with her boyfriend, Clodoaldo, and her cat Callisto.