Financial worker puts job on hold to pursue astrophysics passion
Ben Davidson knew he didn’t want to be an attorney — he just didn’t realize it until after he finished law school.
Then he tried working in equity finance. That was better. But he still thought about his passion in the sky, said Davidson, 29, who grew up in Fox Chapel.
Now Davidson and his wife, Katherine, of Columbus, Ohio, are blending the analytical edge of the law with the research skill of the financial world to showcase his real intellectual passion: astrophysics.
“It’s very exhilarating to know you don’t have to be a Ph.D.-level scientist to understand certain things and how the weather works,” said Katherine Davidson, 26, who paused her banking career to join her husband on a yearlong astrophysics road trip that stopped on Monday at Squaw Valley Park in O’Hara, drawing several dozen curious visitors.
It was their third stop on a cross-country recreational vehicle tour that began this month in Ohio, where the Davidsons list more than 180,000 online followers worldwide for their Suspicious Observers project.
Some university-level scientists aren’t convinced of some of Davidson’s controversial conclusions — including his worry about global cooling and large solar flares that he thinks could disrupt power grids.
That isn’t stopping the Davidsons. He welcomes the criticism.
Through their main website at suspicious0bservers.org and a bevy of social media, the couple tracks sunspots, solar flares and other solar activity with a personal touch.
“He wasn’t a know-it-all type of person. He was very sincere in what he was trying to share. He was honest and very respectful,” said Suspicious Observers follower Catherine MacDonald, 69, of Mena, Ark.
MacDonald is among dozens of supporters helping the Davidsons map stops across North America for their Mobile Observatory. The converted RV is set to crisscross the continent before its last tour stop in April in Denver, giving visitors at restaurants, parks and other venues a free chance to monitor solar activity, radiation and meteors.
Many of the supporters helped equip the vehicle through an online campaign that raised more than $60,000. The Davidsons said they kicked in about $40,000 to buy the basic vehicle before the conversion.
It’s the latest step in what began as a hobby for Ben Davidson in 2011. He had posted occasional videos on YouTube to explore cosmic happenings in the solar system. He relied on — and cited — public information available through NASA and other federal science agencies.
“Most importantly, I empowered people. I gave them the tools to go see things for themselves,” said Davidson, who assured followers that many of their solar observations were harmless.
He said his legal and financial background was a key, giving him the research skill to ferret out and piece together scientific information in an understandable format.
By Jan. 1, Davidson had quit his job in the financial sector to commit himself full time to Suspicious Observers. Though much of the website remains free, visitors pay a fee for certain features.
The couple’s next tour stop is scheduled for Tuesday in Hershey.
“Paradigms change,” Davidson said. “It wasn’t that long ago that the world was flat.”
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or [email protected].