Scientific conferences intimidated me when I was a graduate student. Even under the wing of my thesis adviser, a well-known scientist and a good mentor, my awful insignificance and inexperience were readily apparent to all.

As my own professional wings spread, conferences became less formidable. My steadily growing credentials gave my words weight. I grew to express the unexpected and controversial, and even to help plan some of the meetings that had once awed me. Meetings became fun.



Not long ago, I spent two hours in the library in pursuit of a single fact: a certain astronomer's first name. I was writing about Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to the sun. Alpha Centauri is ]actually triple; it consists of two bright stars and one faint one. The faint star is called Proxima Centauri, because it is the closest of the three. The two bright stars...

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