Complete Podcast Interview Transcript:  

Karin Öberg, PhD, astrochemist

Announcer:                        00:06                    

Welcome to the Purpose Nation Podcast. Inspiring conversations with Christians in science, technology and industries of the future. For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit

Brad Cooper:                     00:16                    

This is Brad Cooper with Purpose Nation and are you ready to talk about life on other planets? Today is one of my favorite topics. We'll be talking about it with an astronomer and astrochemist Professor Karen Oberg Professor Oberg. Welcome to the podcast.

Karin Öberg:                       00:29                    

Thank you. My pleasure to be there.

Brad Cooper:                     00:31                    

And so you just recently as I understand it you got a lot of things going on both professionally and personally. So it's sounds like you recently just got married and had your honeymoon. Congratulations!

Karin Öberg:                       00:40                    

Thank you very much. I thought it was glorious.

Brad Cooper:                     00:42                    

I'm sure it was a fun time and lots of excitement. It's just the beginning. So lots of blessings going your way.

Karin Öberg:                       00:47                    

Thank you. Thank you very much. Merry Christmas season to you. Happy New Year. Are you excited about the holidays?

Karin Öberg:                       00:53                    

We're so excited. We are staying in Cambridge together and just looking forward to a quiet Christmas. Between me and my husband.

Brad Cooper:                     01:02                    

That's great. So your first I guess is officially as a wife so nice any snow yet there in Boston it seems like it's getting kind of cold.

Karin Öberg:                       01:09                    

We had snow a week ago which was great because their Christmas tree. And they're hoping there will be some more snow.

Brad Cooper:                     01:14                    

Saw the Star Wars movie last week. I don't know if you saw that or not. There's lots of different planetary environments that they have in every episode. Have you seen it yet? If so what did you think?

Karin Öberg:                       01:14                    

I have not.

Brad Cooper:                     01:14                    


Karin Öberg:                       01:14                    

I have not unfortunately so don't spoil it for me.

Brad Cooper:                     01:27                    

I will not spoil it at all. It was good. I give it a thumbs up. Maybe we can talk again afterwards. All the different sort of planetary environments that they have are pretty interesting to look at to try to have some variety of both the planets and the stars and the lifeforms that are there. So yeah give it a thumbs up but I won't give any spoilers.

Karin Öberg:                       01:43                    

I appreciate it but I think imagination in science fiction regarding other planets is fascinating and it's a lot of fun to think about.

Brad Cooper:                     01:54                    

Yeah, it's somewhat inspiring and sometimes they're ahead of the scientists. Not  always but sometimes they are in sort of the creativity.  Before we get started I did want to give a quick background on Professor Oberg. She's a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and her research is focused on putting chemistry and physics together during Star and it formation and looking at that and helping us to learn more about planets and planet formations especially those that might have liquid water and maybe have conditions that support life. Very cool stuff. She has a B.S. in chemistry from Cal Tech and a Ph.D. in astronomy from Leiden University. She's a recipient of many awards and fellowships including the A.S. Newton Lacey Pierce Prize the Packard Fellowship and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship has given many presentations lots of conferences around the world on our research so tell us Professor Oberg,  what are some of the things that you're currently working on? You could kind of give a brief overview of your work.

Karin Öberg:                       02:43                    

In sense of all the work we do aim at understanding how planets form and what kind of planets form under different circumstances. Third final goal of understanding how often the planets form that are suitable to life. And there are different ways you can get to it but one thing we're doing right now is we're using a really cool new telescope to look at the material from which planets form. So they're kind of forming right now and we can look at this material and tell what chemistry is made out of the chemical composition and that's what we're spending a lot of our time on right now.

Brad Cooper:                     03:18                    

Seems like you have a pretty strong combination of both chemistry and physics. You know people usually think of searching for extraterrestrial life for example giant radio telescopes and waiting for some signal from some E.T. out there but that's not what you're doing. How are you combining physics with chemistry and astrophysics and trying to search for planets mainly but in their composition. But I guess ultimately for life too. I mean that's part of the end goal here isn't it?

Karin Öberg:                       03:46                    

Yeah you can think about getting to the question from two different ways. The one thing that a lot of astronomers here is trying to that Rick look for other planets that are habitable or even inhabited by looking at the plane themselves. And so we're coming at it from a different angle and we are looking at the planet as they are forming and trying to predict how often you get to habitable planet so we are not looking at the directly but at the material is forming from. And if you're going to do that you're going to have to understand both chemistry and physics. Let me talk about habitability that is both the physics and the chemistry question. Do you have water? That is a physics question in the sense that it's a planet sitting at the right temperature to sustain water but it's also a chemistry question because the water has to come from somewhere and how often do you form water where plants are forming the chemical question so we combined them.

Brad Cooper:                     04:40                    

Well take a step back now.  So how did you get interested in all this stuff? I mean it's obviously something that's very fascinating to me and I'm sure others as well. But what were some of the things that led up maybe as a kid. I don't know if there is some fascination with chemistry or with the Stars or maybe there's something in science fiction or a mentor or what were some of the things that got you interested in science and most specifically in the work that you do now?

Karin Öberg:                       04:59                    

My father is the main source I think. He's a scientist, a chemist but really interested in astronomy and the big questions that are posed in astronomy. I think I had the perfect astronomy book before I could read and I definitely developed some fascination for that as well. But it was not until college when I decided that this was what I wanted to do.  I was also good with science and math going to school and I knew by the end of high school I was going to go for some sort of science career. Even though there are many options within that that are contemplating. But it wasn't until college and I realized that it could combine what I'm good at which is chemistry. It was clear to me chemistry become the most natural. With the science they talk about the most fascinating questions which I think is astronomy. When I realize I can combined the two, I mean that was when my career became very clear to me what I was supposed to do. When I wanted to do.

Brad Cooper:                     05:54                    

And your father was like in research or a professor?

Karin Öberg:                       05:58                    

When I was little he was a chemist in the private sector in environmental science.  He actually went back and get his PhD when I was getting my B.S. so he was a professor of Environmental Science for a while.

Brad Cooper:                     06:10                    

You grew up in Sweden correct. What  was that like growing up there?

Karin Öberg:                       06:14                    

I grew up in a small town in Sweden and I think there are many things that are similar to this in a small town of Sweden small town in the U.S.. I think one thing that stands out in Sweden is that everyone is in love with nature. There is some fundamental something fundamental drawing people to nature and it has spent a lot of time on the nature as a child and it sort of turned into an indoor person when I was older. But I think that is just part of growing up in Sweden being out in nature a lot which I think is very good for dating actually kids interested in science and curiosity and all that good stuff.

Brad Cooper:                     06:50                    

And lots of great places to see the stars. I'm sure.

Karin Öberg:                       06:53                    

Yeah. I mean the darkness has its pro for sure so it gets pretty dark during the fall and winter. But it is true that I think that rhythm that you get from having ethereal light in the summer and very dark in the winter but also gives the difference for them to life which I think I enjoyed. I like that there is a difference between the seasons.

Brad Cooper:                     07:16                    

Sounds like you were pretty set on some kind of science and then specifically kind of chemistry and combining that with astronomy. But if you weren't an astrochemist. Any second career? What would you be doing right now?

Karin Öberg:                       07:26                    

So the other career had that out of me which was I was going into it is done with the combine art and science or art and engineering and artists in the book. The second thing that I really enjoy and I get up I was actually thinking about things like industrial design are like we combine physics and art. So that was probably something created within the science engineering board what would probably be what I've done.

Brad Cooper:                     07:53                    

OK. And I guess saying you can still at least have some creativity within the work you're doing too. It's not like you know people sort of tend to think of scientists as purely math and it's all very straightforward and logical and the answers just come out of the equations. But there's definitely some creativity involved in your work as well. I'm sure.

Karin Öberg:                       08:10                    

Absolutely. I mean something like solving a puzzle, right? Except that it's not really clear with the populace all the time and I think that's where the creativity comes in and figuring out what the puzzle you're trying to call it. But I think in addition to that what I discovered once according to the research is that there is also a more ethical part to it. So we spend a lot of time thinking of how to present results and data both by scientists and to lay people. And that's actually where I get to use some of my art or intuition in making that data understandable and attractive to look at them. I do spend some time on that still.

Brad Cooper:                     08:50                    

Yeah. I mean some of those sort of the planets that they're discovering in other solar systems and the different presentations they have of the kind goes back to the Star Wars thing with a different you know interesting in terms of the colors and the designs of the planets and what it might look like you know standing on that planet.  So I can see how that artistic sense in your presentations can come into play there. So tell us a little bit about the Catholic Christian background if there was any and maybe how you came to your Catholic faith?

Karin Öberg:                       09:14                    

Yeah I'm happy to hear it and it's very secular. I mean I think that is a big difference even though I live in Cambridge which is both a secular place but Sweden is secular in a different sense. And I think it's not like there's no conflict between religion and the non-religious. It's just not being very important at all. So growing up, that was the environment I was growing up in. My father is an atheist. My mother is a Christian but not someone who was outwardly practicing. So I grew up in the great secular conflict from a religious point of view.  I think I was turned toward Catholicism but knowing that the very young age when the very first real book that I read The Lord Of The Rings by Tolkien which I think is a profoundly Catholic book and I just loved it. I've loved it ever since I was 8 or 9 when I read that. I had some sort of vague belief in God as a child.  This was challenged as I was preparing for confirmation with the Swedish Lutheran Church so life in a Lutheran Church which is people mostly due for cultural reasons and then I was preparing for confirmation and I after thinking about these questions a bit more seriously under the leadership of the priest in the Swedish Lutheran Church, I came to realize that it just didn't make sense to me. So very shortly after my confirmation I went from sort of vaguely believing to not believing at all. During the next eight years or so I was some sort of agnostic not really thinking too much about i. First end of the eight years couple of things that just kept bugging me and one of them was a very strong belief in moral absolutes but there are things that are absolutely evil.  There are things that are good. These are real things and other thing was a strong belief in a free will and those are difficult to reconcile with its purely materialistic universe. And the other thing that's happened around the same time in college at Caltech is that I met a lot of really smart Christians. So even if it is Caltech, also a very secular school, they feel that their active Christian group I had friends who are Christians and that I think put that choice in front of me and sometimes I have to think about what this is about. And I started wearing my confirmation propaganda my senior year in college. And if I'm undefined way through thinking about myself as a Christian without actually knowing what it meant. But the big moment came in about half the year after I had left Caltech and started in Leiden. And that was when I ordered Mere Christianity and read it and about an hour into that I went from an agnostic to a Christian. So it was a very rapid conversion once that actually happened. A, very emotional day very strange to be around age 23 24 to go from not believing to believing that quickly. But as a logical person I am once I finished the book, close the book and started googling for churches nearby. But for English speaking to them now in the Netherlands where I'm doing my Ph.D. So I became a Christian in grad school and I joined the Anglican Church because that was the nearby English speaking church. 

Brad Cooper:                     09:14                    

Wow, that's amazing.

Karin Öberg:                       12:37                    

So, that's when I became a Christian.  And the year later I received from one of my brothers another book this time Orthodoxy by Chesterton and I read it and it was one of those moments that was a conversion moment because I didn't change anything what I believe. It was more of with more of OK, this is what I believe moment. I now understand what I was feeling or believing all along. And of course, that is a Catholic classic. Ever since then for the next few years I was thinking about this but I'm mostly put it aside whether to convert into a Catholic Church because I was happy with the Anglican Church where I was at and it was time until I moved back to Europe and to Cambridge that I realized that it was time to actually act on this pull that I was feeling.

Brad Cooper:                     12:37                    

And so did you join the Catholic Church there? 

Karin Öberg:                       13:26                    

I did. After I've been here for about a year, I went to St. Paul's which is the church that is associated with Harvard there they run the Harvard student ministry among other things and I asked how you do to covert?

Brad Cooper:                     13:40                    

Wow, that's amazing story. Thank you for sharing that. Yes. C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity. I've heard that a couple of times but from other guests that we've had and he and his work have brought a lot of people to faith and especially because it's the way he writes is so appealing I think to people who are scientifically minded or logically minded. And so but that's amazing that it was like whatever you said it was an hour into the book that was that was pretty fast. You're a quick read and obviously very powerful and then obviously reinforcing that with other things like Chesterton is another one that we hear quite often as well. It's also something that's both the head and heart thing that we hear from our guests.

Karin Öberg:                       14:17                    

Absolutely. I mean I think it definitely appealed to me and I am so grateful that God showed the path for me this are more intellectual path. It was really true double conversion through the books, first Lewis and then Chesterton. But at the same time I don't think it would have been that powerful if it also hadn't been the spirit of working on my heart and emotion because it was also a very powerfully emotional experience in both cases.

Brad Cooper:                     14:44                    

I can imagine.  So this sounds like it is relatively recent then I guess I mean when would you have I guess considered yourself fully a part of the Catholic Church?

Karin Öberg:                       14:52                    

No I entered into the church five and a half years ago.

Brad Cooper:                     14:55                    

OK well we're obviously glad you did. And thank you for sharing all of that and for being part now of sharing that faith publicly you know as a scientist so bring us forward a little bit now to your current work and talking about some of the projects that you're working on so I understand you work with some data from something called Alma. Tell us about that and just you know what are some of the bigger problems that you're looking to solve or questions that you're looking to answer with your research?

Karin Öberg:                       15:18                    

With the telescope that I was alluding to at the beginning of the podcast. Oh is this amazing new array of telescope scanning to accommodate that in Chile and it operates that microwave links to the same wavelength that you have in your microwave oven. And the reason that it's so exciting for me to have access to this telescope that operates with this particular wavelength is that we can't study specific molecules with this. telescope but it means that we can tell which I think it's really amazing that we can look at the young star. We can look at the dust and gas that around the star which is where planets are assembling right now and we can tell about their chemical composition that with a telescope and we're trying to figure out what material goes into new planets and that is exactly the question that we want to have answered. What is the chemical composition of the dust from the gas and run the stars that will eventually end up in.  So we're spending a lot of time thinking about how to use this telescope in the most optimal way to answers the questions from what the dust material look like around young stars who eventually going to planet but I'm not yet come into planet.

Brad Cooper:                     16:27                    

And why is that important why is the sort of the chemistry of the formation important to science but to know some other questions like whether it's habitable or not. And the planet and sort of what are some things that that leads to?

Karin Öberg:                       16:43                    

So when planets assembled from this dusting gas they will get their ball composition from whatever you have in the dust and gas. If you want to planet with a lot of water you want there to be a lot of water in there. This is going to be a very difficult thing that one of the questions we can imagine answering with this observation is how often did scientists form in the water rich environment end up going to tell you how often to the planets have water in a probabilistic way. Another question that we are spending a lot of time thinking about is how often do the planets swarm surrounded by the kind of organic material that we think what's important for the origin of life here on Earth. So here on Earth we think that more molecules called cyanide have a carbon and a nitrogen bound together in them. They played a crucial role in the early chemistry it eventually led to the ordinance of light. We are looking for the cyanide around young stars for planets forming right now to assess how often we get that kind of chemistry during planet formation.

Brad Cooper:                     17:44                    

And what kind of probabilities are you finding in terms of water and the organic chemistry that you would need for life?

Karin Öberg:                       17:49                    

So it's a different time therefore for water and for accounting. So  take the water for parts we can how planets always form in water rich system that we actually think that we can say with some confidence that water's going to be the bottleneck if you on the origin of life. Most planets are going to have at least some water on them. Now it's difficult to put that in percentage wise but I would say 50 percent to this is not going to be the problem. It's a bit different from the get to organic or conic material on the one hand it seems incredibly common that we can already tell. But when you have to right organic it's something that we're still working on to figure out. But it's still a question that we have something going the tube but we don't have a complete answer yet and that's exactly what we're working on right now.

Brad Cooper:                     18:38                    

Sounds like there's definitely different types of exotic life you could have that maybe doesn't need water although that seems like from what I understand a pretty good thing that thing that's really needed. But as far as the organics go is there some possibility even if the organics are not similar to what they are on Earth that there's still life?

Karin Öberg:                       18:54                    

Yes just the ability and the reason that we think water is important to have the chemical reactions happen. You need to have happen is some kind of medium or solution and what it is the best pollen. We now have the most diverse kind of chemistry happening and that's why we're so focused on water. When it comes to organics, it's much more uncertain which are kind of organic material is actually important them because we don't know how life originated here on earth and until we have that question could we comprehend what he need for Earth like life to originate and much less any kind of life. This is something that scientists are working on trying to figure out whether that there was a clear cut path from the earth to chemistry on earth to early life.  But we know that existed.

Brad Cooper:                     19:44                    

This is all, it sounds very recent as well right in terms of ALMA and the technology and the things that are doing and a lot of the extra solar planetary discoveries that they've made in the number of planets that they're finding around other stars. It seems like this is almost accelerating in terms of discovery that have been made. It is all very exciting is that right? it's all pretty new stuff?

Karin Öberg:                       20:04                    

It is new. ALMA has just been operating for a few years. So we're still in an exploratory phase figuring out what ALMA can do you will be answered some obvious or the question which we have so that we are fighting and I think we will be the Vietnam are understanding quite a bit over the next two years after going from looking up individual case studies to really much larger sample of objects. If you answer exactly kinds of questions. If you ask if it's 10 percent of the time or 50 percent of the time that the five conditions are similar to what the young Earth and on exoplanetary side going to be a very exciting transition happening next year. Up until now people have spent a lot of time to be very successful at it finding a lot of planets and understanding sort of over the population of exoplanets. What are some typical characteristics.  Next year we're going to be moving into a much more case study like exploration like the planet where we spend a lot of time on individual exoplanets. We do try and understand their compositions and atmospheres its exactly kind of questions that you would like answered If you want to know it's a planet or a particular habitable or not so distant excitement happening in both fields.

Brad Cooper:                     21:19                    

Yeah that's exciting. I mean do you think we'll get to a point where beyond visiting these planets which doesn't seem possible in any conceivable future unless our physics guys you know start decelerating on what we're doing with propulsion systems or some kind of wormhole or something but does it seem like we'll be actually visiting many of these planets anytime soon.  So is there some possibility though that there's some chemical signature or some signs beyond you know E.T. there waving to us through it through the telescope. Is there anything that you think we could come to where we can definitively say whether a extrasolar planet has life on it or not?

Karin Öberg:                       21:49                    

It's always difficult to say definitively but with very high probability will make me happier, too.

Brad Cooper:                     21:54                    

Do I think that's possible?

Karin Öberg:                       21:56                    

I think it is. I don't think it's on decades timescale rather than years. I think it is. There are chemical signature that are here on Earth that are very strange to find if there was not life here. Having the amount of oxygen and ozone that we have in the atmosphere, together with signatures of methane, for example. I mean no one has figured out how high could possibly produce that in a planet without biology.  And people are thinking very actively what kind of combinations of chemicals in plants atmospheres that are strong indications of having some biology there. This is never going to be a definitive answer because you could always say that you missed some chemistry. But I think that it can give us a very high probability of planets that have biology on them, if such planets exist. I think the second thing that people are thinking on an even longer time scale is being able to do really higher resolution imaging of some of the nearby systems with planets that can actually distinguish a star and a planet basically by taking a picture of the system what they can do. You can start looking for signs of vegetation for example which together with an atmospheric composition I think would get you very close to conclusive.

Brad Cooper:                     23:12                    

So we had Professor Lunine who I think you know another Catholic astronomer who was on one of her episodes and I asked him this question I couldn't get him to give me a straight answer. I'm asking you anyway and what's your personal view and what are your thoughts. I mean it seems like there's the whole point about it would seem like an awful waste of space to not have life on any of these billions of other stars and billions of other galaxies. Seems like we're finding a lot of planets. It seems like you're finding water. All the signs seem to at least point towards planets that are habitable. What are your thoughts on it. I mean you know I was guessing you wouldn't be doing this if you didn't think there was life out there in some form.

Karin Öberg:                       23:46                    

That's right. So I'm going to give you a very non straightforward answer because I also think if we had started forward on it.  But fundamentally I mean the research we do is to answer two questions. One is how we got to understanding the formation of the solar system better adornments of light that are here and there but I don't want it absolutely thinking about how often you could get life elsewhere and if I didn't think that there was life elsewhere the second one would be a pretty boring question. Yes I have a feeling that there is life elsewhere and that it's frequent enough that we can discover it. There's absolutely assumption that I'm going in with when doing the research that I do. Now if there is life elsewhere. I mean I really don't know. As a scientist I don't know I don't have any better evidence than anyone else on whether there is or there isn't. But I think what's becoming clear is that the very basic needs for life, they seem like they're going to be next to a lot of places. So the big question is once you have the basic needs for life. How often do you actually get life. In there, we just don't know.

Brad Cooper:                     24:53                    

Oh yeah. It's exciting though I think I'm with you though I think it's probably out there and I don't know whether it's intelligent and the whole Fermi paradox if there is life out there why haven't we heard from them or seen them in some way. So it seems likely that maybe there is some rudimentary life or maybe just not intelligent or just hiding from us.

Karin Öberg:                       25:13                    

Yep and all those are possible. I mean I strongly support Professor Lunine science and desire to look more carefully in the solar system for life since finding life that only even get one other place would just tell us so much about what is needed for life to originate and that would be extremely helpful in answering this question.

Brad Cooper:                     25:31                    

Let's go to and sell it is there some of these other moons you know in our own solar system too. So as far as your faith now and do the work that you just talked about and what the possibility that there's life in other places outside of earth you've probably at least over the last five and a half years and maybe longer have been sort of trying to think about that in terms of our God and our Christian faith in terms of reconciling that. I don't and I don't think a lot of people see a conflict there necessarily. But how does that make you think differently about both your work and your faith whether there is life elsewhere.

Karin Öberg:                       26:00                    

Well I think not intelligent life or let's say life without a rational soul, I think poses no conflict whatsoever. I mean it can't be that to be any problem. That would be too fascinating I think both the scientists and scientists are alive to find that the bacterial life and then some of them. I mean it would be really awesome and help us understand our own origin but I don't think it would have any theological consequences that I can think of. I think it is very interesting to think about what other rational creatures would look like and whether they would have fallen whether they would have been another incarnation. I think that's when you start having actual not necessarily conflict but things to think about. There are some people I've thought about it much more deeply than I have but that for me would be the most fascinating thing if he can meet another civilization of rational souls embodied rational soul and here their take on their relationship with God.  I mean I do assume that if God created a creature that isn't embodied rational soul he will open up to establish friendship with them and what that would look like for another kind of creature.

Brad Cooper:                     27:11                    

Yeah and you know can we baptize aliens I guess is a question that comes up here. They're all fascinating stuff so a very interesting work at Caltech it sound like you mentioned you came across to other Christians.  Some people have assumptions one way or the other that there's either no Christians in science or there are just lots of Christians in science and it's probably somewhere in between. Some of them maybe are Christians and maybe they're not really upfront by choice about their faith. And I know this is even this interview for you I think might be one of your first where you kind of talk a little more deeply about some of these faith issues but it sounds like you at least ran into some other Christians but have you also run into the opposite where you had either anybody now that you've been a believer now for five years or so. Any kind of conflict there from others or have been people mostly been supportive?

Karin Öberg:                       27:54                    

I really have had no conflict whatsoever which I know is something that comes as a surprise to many. I mean Harvard is a very secular place. But I have been very open with my faith since I entered into the Church. I mean I typically wear a crucifix when I teach and I have religious imagery in my office.  And I'm sometimes met with bewilderment, but never with hostility and most of the time actually just with support even from people who are not Christian themselves or anything like that I'm being open and honest with who I am. So for me it's been an entirely positive experience.

Speaker 9:                           28:33                    

That's great. There are some people who maybe are not as open with their faith. And how can we encourage them I guess to be I mean what are the things you said you know just be honest about your faith. That's awesome to hear that. Don't always hear that. And I was in high tech for many years to see where people are just afraid potentially even if there's no real discrimination or anything like that. They're somewhat reluctant or afraid to come out more for their faith but I mean what would you say to people who are Christians in science who maybe are somewhat reluctant for whatever reason.

Karin Öberg:                       29:00                    

Well what I would start with is that just acknowledged that I've been in a very privileged position and I'm not sure that everyone is and everyone will have that same happy outcome if they're open with their faith. So you know I don't want to get on a pedestal and preach to them. I mean I think there are times when being more private about it than acting out through faith without talking about it might be the more prudent thing to do. And I think that is totally ok especially if you are more junior in a vulnerable position. I don't think people should feel ashamed over that. Sometimes that is where they are in their life and in their career. But the people who feel toward the pole and feel that they're willing to pay the risk that they are in a pretty safe position. I'd say that is the best part is just the joy of it. There's been so many junior people and students who have reached out to me and getting to help them be part of trying to help them get to grips with their faith and how they should live it out. That is just incredibly meaningful and I think you missed out on getting to do that by hiding. Just be part of helping others finding their faith or shoring it up...that's the best part.

Brad Cooper:                     30:06                    

And there's lots of groups I know. So obviously the Society of Catholic Scientists and you said you mentioned there might be Christian groups at Caltech, Harvard I imagine has some Catholic or Christian groups where people can go to engage and kind of be more open about their faith, is that right?

Karin Öberg:                       30:20                    

That's right. And I have spoken to a Catholic student here at Harvard and also I come to gatherings that aren't non-denominational larger Christian groups and have had a very positive experience with both. So I mean maybe that is the main advice I would give especially to younger people is to find fellowship.  Don't do it on your own. It's so much harder. Find those groups. They definitely exist. I don't know a university where they don't exists.  I think after you find your strength.

Brad Cooper:                     30:50                    

And not only being kind of a Christian with your faith in somewhat secular worlds but also in a field where up until you know recently it's been mostly led by men. But you know there's lots of progress has been made but what are your thoughts on that goal. Being a Christian woman in fields of science as well. I mean what are you seeing as far as the trends? What is it like for you. Did you not experience any difficulties because of that? I mean what are some of your thoughts on that and then what would you recommend to young women specifically you know thinking about a career in science?

Karin Öberg:                       31:20                    

Yes this is a tricky question because on one hand I have just had a great experience but that doesn't mean that there aren't sometimes difficulties that happen because you are a woman setting both being honest about that but also I think maybe we care too much for the only story so my story is very different and I've gotten a lot of support and mentorship of senior managers in the field. That's really lifting me through. Like the sometimes difficult question and I think finding those mentors whether they are men or women and getting help from them is probably the best thing you can do. Again trying to do it completely on your own, I think it's much harder than it should be. And there are a lot of senior people of both genders out there that I think are very happy to help and find great help. So they know my experience that I just got a lot of help on the way and that made it so much more fun so much easier.

Brad Cooper:                     32:17                    

Yeah and it sounds like he had also the support you had. I'm guessing from you know as part of your faith as well. I mean as far as your church and especially over the last five years or so well we talked about the C.S. Lewis book but are there other points in your career where you felt sort of God's leading hand as well?

Karin Öberg:                       32:31                    

So I think one poignant episode is when I entered the church I was here at Harvard for post-doc after entering into the church I moved to Virginia University of Virginia for my first faculty position.

Brad Cooper:                     32:49                    

Yeah. Wahoos! my school. Now you're probably going to give be bad story about my college but go ahead.

Karin Öberg:                       32:58                    

No, I'm not going to give you bad stories. I'm going to give you good stories. So I entered into the church starting RCIA not knowing any other Catholic I was seeing that on my own and after entering into the Church actually one of my friends came back to the Church at same time I had a fellowship with her so I was pretty isolated as far as Catholics goes. So when I came to Virginia one of the things that's fantastic about the university there is the university parish which is run by the Dominicans, St. Thomas Aquinas, wonderful place and that's the first time I had actually Catholic community. I never beggarly seeing, thinking with socializing with. And I really like that. That was the really beautiful thing to have. And when I get recruited to come back to Harvard that was actually one of the things that I really feared leaving behind. So the only good thing about UVA.

Brad Cooper:                     33:49                    

OK, thank you. Yes.

Karin Öberg:                       33:50                    

And I brought this up here to the department chair. They were trying to recruit me, and having this religious community, was something that I was fearing losing. And but what he did, and he is an atheist, but he did it which was really beautiful. He figured out who the other Christian faculty and staff was and had been sent me e-mails about their experience being people of faith here in Cambridge and Boston off and other things that need to transition them back here much less scary and I also very quickly found a good Catholic community here. It's not just the U.V.A. You know that special Dominicans community in there.

Brad Cooper:                     34:28                    

Yeah well that's great to hear on multiple levels obviously.  I'm glad to hear that you had a positive experience there in Charlottesville at U.V.A but then also that says a lot I should say about the academic environment for your department had to say. Well let me figure out how we can get you to be there to integrate with other Catholics here so that we get you on board.  And so you know from an atheist that says a lot.

Karin Öberg:                       34:51                    

Yes and said I'm having a lot of support from a senior men in the field, both as a woman and as a Catholic.

Brad Cooper:                     34:57                    

That's a great story. So coming up we have New Year's coming up any New Year's resolutions for you?

Karin Öberg:                       35:05                    

No, none that I have figured out yet. Yes but I'm trying to stress less and have a better workplace balance like approximately every single person you have to talk to. I think if I if I am going to make a new investigation it would be to be more like Mary and less like Martha and actually focus you know before a single minded focus on the big things that matter and not the little things distract me as much as they do.

Brad Cooper:                     35:29                    

Absolutely that is a great one. I probably need to keep that in mind in the New Year myself as well. Professor Oberg. We wish you all the best in the new year with your faith and your family and your work. Lots of exciting things. It sounds like in this next year for use a hope you can make some exciting new scientific discoveries. So thank you again for spending some time with us on the podcast.

Karin Öberg:                       35:29                    

Thank you.  It's been a pleasure.

Brad Cooper:                     35:52                    

It's been a pleasure as well. God bless and Happy New Year.

Karin Öberg:                       35:52                    

God bless. Bye.

Brad Cooper:                     35:52                    

Thank you.

Announcer:                        35:55                    

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