Space expert—David Stevenson

Hear from our one of our alumni, space expert—David Stevenson is a Professor of Planetary Science for the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

David Stevenson talks at a news conference at Cape Canaveral at the time of the launch of Juno.
David Stevenson talks at a news conference at Cape Canaveral at the time of the launch of Juno. Photo supplied.

BSc MSc DSc Well, PhD C’nell

Describe your career since graduating from Victoria

My career has been devoted to scientific research and teaching, with the nature of planets as a common theme.

Having spent most of my career based at Caltech in Pasadena, California, I have been involved in space missions, like Juno—a billion-dollar spacecraft currently headed for Jupiter.

I was heavily involved in recent work that shows that Saturn’s small moon, Enceladus, has an ocean beneath its ice shell.

What is a particular highlight of your career to date?

There has not been a singular highlight,but a sustained pleasure from learning about planets, being involved with NASA and the opportunity to work with young scientists from around the world.

What are some of your favourite memories of Victoria?

I listened to Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon on the radio in a physics lab.

My lasting memory of chemistry is the unpleasant smell of hydrogen sulphide.

I have fond memories of the Hunter building which then housed the physics department, even though some of the labs were dilapidated. The building has been nicely redone—how fortunate it was saved!

Describe your student experience

As a student, I was largely invisible. I spent a lot of time in the lab and in later years programming the earliest substantial computer on campus—the Elliott 503. It was very capable for its time, but now a joke by current standards.

What was the most useful thing you learnt?

The importance of the fundamentals, which for me was maths and physics. I also came to appreciate the value of good teaching, both when I saw it and when I saw its absence.

What has stayed with you since you left Victoria?

I did not appreciate the unity of science. I would have been surprised if anyone had suggested value in learning any geology, but this was something I picked up many years later and have since taught!