A senior's curiosity
- Student practices what she preaches
- Trail-blazing senior has a passion for film
- Senior double major enjoys adventure on and off the Hill
Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.
Erik Baish ’12 traded one rural college town near a river for another. The physics and mathematical sciences major grew up in Lewisburg, Penn., where he notes that the most remarkable things are the furniture factory, Bucknell University—where his parents are both engineering professors—and the federal penitentiary, “where they keep all the mobsters from New York.”
From the time he was a child, Baish was a tinkerer and something of a free spirit. “I like being on the move and seeing new things and seeing new places,” he said.
When his father took sabbaticals in Malden, Mass. and London, England, Baish filled his days with riding trains and exploring the cities. Growing up in Lewisburg, Baish would swim in the Susquehanna before school, and he would bring home pieces of junk in order to learn about them. “I’d take things apart to see how they work. And then not put them back together.” He has also built a crossbow that shoots plungers. Baish’s experiences in college are the logical extension of his unwavering childhood curiosity, apparent in his academic pursuits, his involvement with the woodsmen team and his travels.
At Colby, Baish’s scientific curiosity has found more refined outlets than making plunger-shooting crossbows. He is working on his senior thesis, modeling the formation of large stars. He explains the phenomenon as “forming a bigger star around a smaller star.”
“Currently, I’m enamored with it,” he said of his project. He balances the highly theoretical by getting dirty in the outdoors. Baish has been a committed woodsman since his sophomore year. His events include the vertical chop and the chainsaw events. “I made a point of not missing any meets this year because it’s kind of tough to fit them all in. It would be a shame to miss out on that.…It’s something you can’t do outside of college.” Baish enjoys the thrill of the perfect chop and the camaraderie of his team.
Closely related to his love of camaraderie are Baish’s reasons for what he calls his “vagrancy.”
“I grew up in one place for a really long time, and I have roots there,” Baish explains. “Going to other places and building a home there and setting up a network of people and places, it’s almost like starting again but not….I like putting down roots in other places.”
Two summers ago, Baish picked up his belongings and moved without much of a plan, just the idea that he wanted to live in Vermont. He found work there in a cable factory with Bosnian immigrants. “They had the most incredible stories of how they got here and what they went through in Bosnia,” he said. “Pretty much any struggle you’re having sounds trivial.”
Among the immigrants he met a married couple who were 16 and 18 when they fled the country during the ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. They were separated, the husband hid in the woods and the wife got ready to set sail to safer pastures. They reunited, fortuitously, and they sailed away with other Bosnian refugees to Vermont where they started their new life.
This past summer, Baish’s interest in wandering and his love of science collided when he taught physics to children at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In my last lesson to the high school kids, I taught them the physics we don’t understand at all,” Baish said. “I brought them up to speed about dark matter and why we think it exists. A few of them stayed after class and they had so many questions and they were so excited about it. They were so excited about the unknown—it was great to see their enthusiasm.”
Baish has a vague idea about what he would like to do after Colby. “Vagrancy and a self-sustaining life in the country somewhere,” Baish muses about his future. “Gardening or farming or teaching.”
Whatever he ends up doing, readers can imagine he will venture into it with the same excitement toward the unknown that his students had about dark matter.