Baganoff tells S&T Ph.D. grads to ‘dare mighty things’

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On December 20, 2023

Dr. Frederick K. Baganoff

Dr. Frederick K. Baganoff, research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, challenged Missouri University of Science and Technology Ph.D. graduates to “dare mighty things.” Baganoff spoke during the Missouri S&T Ph.D. commencement ceremony, held at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15. 

He gave graduates three pieces of advice: quickly learn from mistakes, ask simple questions and seek simple answers, and “dare mighty things,” which is the motto of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Thirty-eight years ago, I received the following advice from my senior lab instructor Dr. Donald Sparlin. He said to make mistakes, make them fast and don’t repeat them,” Baganoff said. “Don’t waste time worrying about a failure; get busy learning from it.”

He also told the graduates that simple questions can be powerful.

“Over the course of my career, I have been surprised by how many breakthroughs have arisen from someone asking themselves a simple question,” Baganoff said, explaining that sometimes the crucial piece of a puzzle that solves a research problem comes from the simple answer.

“It was the product of pure curiosity by someone who asked a simple question, got an unexpected

result, and didn’t let go of it until they understood what was going on,” he said. “This scenario happens all the time. Never lose your natural curiosity.”

Baganoff’s final piece of advice is also the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab’s motto: “Dare mighty things.”

“Progress and innovation don’t come from doing the same thing over and over, which has its own kind of risk,” he said. “Play it safe or take a calculated risk? Choose wisely. During your career there will be times when you have to have the courage to try something new, to take that next big step, even though it may be risky.”

Baganoff of Arlington, Massachusetts, is a research scientist at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and a 2020 recipient of Missouri S&T’s Alumni Achievement Award.

He received scholarships to attend S&T from the University of Missouri Curators and the Miner Alumni Association. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with magna cum laude honors from S&T in 1985. He also holds a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Throughout his career at MIT, Baganoff has led a group of astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NuSTAR Observatory to survey the central region of our Milky Way galaxy, discovering thousands of white dwarf stars, neutron stars and black holes. 

Baganoff is a co-recipient of the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics given to the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration for obtaining the first image of the event horizon of a black hole (Messier 87). He has also received two NASA Group Achievement Awards for his work with these two astrophysics missions, which are currently in orbit.

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