The telescope room atop Pupin Hall at Columbia University offers a stunning view of the night sky and the New York City skyline. Astronomy Ph.D. candidate Cameron Hummels even considered moving his desk and computer up to the rooftop shed before concluding that his computer would not last long without heat or air conditioning. As much as Hummels would like to be near the telescopes all the time, the discoveries he wants to make also require computers, and there’s a lot at stake: “I love the fact that I could potentially make a difference,” he says, “in how we identify the underlying principles of nature.”
While Cameron was showing me around on the roof of the building, he found a $20 bill wedged in a hard-to-reach nook between a telescope dome and a brick wall. The incident didn’t make it directly into the story…but may have inspired the title.