Raphael Slawinski doesn’t take his students climbing. He’s happier teaching them the first law of thermodynamics or quantum mechanics in his Calgary classroom. If they’re having a hard time in class, chances are they might have a harder time keeping up with their professor in the hills. The Polish-born physicist also happens to be a world-class alpinist, though he’d still call himself a weekend warrior. We were able to get a moment of his time before the semester starts to ask a few questions about maintaining a career in science, while tempting the laws of physics in his spare time.
Even though your father was a climber in Poland, you didn’t take in on until your family moved to Canada when you were a teenager. How come? It wasn’t until we moved to Calgary that I was living close to the mountains. Before that we lived in places like Warsaw and Paris, not exactly climbing destinations. But even so I did not take to climbing right away. Ironically it was moving away to Chicago to go to graduate school that made me realize how important mountains and climbing had become to me.
Your mother is also a physicist and your father is a geologist. Has science always been a passion for you? Why? I suppose having both parents be scientists made me aware from early on that science wasn’t just something you took at school and then promptly forgot, but that it was something you could do your whole life. I think my fascination with science started with astronomy. Not so much looking through a telescope, but thinking about the incredible things out there, the vastness of space just beyond Earth’s atmosphere.