First, there was Copernicus. Then, Galileo. Eventually Madonna. Now comes Dr. Terenzi: astronomer, pop star, visiona…

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Out Front, Fall 1998

“I Have to Be … Fiorella”
First, there was Copernicus. Then, Galileo. Eventually Madonna. Now comes Dr. Terenzi: astronomer, pop star, visionary.
By Amy Goldwasser

“We are not communicating with celestial objects,” says Dr. Fiorella Terenzi, astrophysicist, “and we should be. Looking up to the sky, we can learn about planets and quasars and black holes, but at the same time, I would like people to be transported in the beauty, in the wonder of the universe. The year 2000 is high time we start doing science in
a more joyful — and more serious — way.”

If anyone does science differently, it is the self-proclaimed “Fiorella, from Milano!” Known primarily for her work converting radio waves from galaxies into sound, she has also put her ideas into a book, Heavenly Knowledge; cut records with the celestially hip Thomas Dolby and the late Timothy Leary; and, this summer, joined jazzman Ornette
Coleman on his European tour. (At the Grammys, the home-schooled boys of the rock group Hanson asked her to be their astronomy tutor; she’s pretty busy right now, but considering the offer.) Fiorella is a fusion of brainy and busty, sporting with equal ëlan a doctorate in physics and strappy sandals. One of her theories: “I would say that the universe is a sexy enchantress.”
We would say that Fiorella Terenzi is what every Bond girl should be — Pussy Galore, Ph.D. — or, better yet, Agent Scully with a sex life.

Fiorella on the science of stargazing:

“What we have now, all the time, is a tendency to quantify the universe, reduce it to a number. And there is, you know, particularly for male scientists, this drive to possess the celestial object: This galaxy is mine. They need to dominate the universe. There is a growing campaign, especially among women scientists, in which we want to try to dialogue — to converse with
the universe — as well as study it.”

Fiorella on eroticism in her book:

“I said no to the stereotype of the sexless scientist — it is more strong to be able to express yourself sexually. Who can claim that sexuality does not go with science? If it is nighttime and I’m by myself in a gigantic observatory, facing Orion, it triggers some fantasy. How galaxies trust each other is a metaphor for relationships. So bright, so self-fulfilling.”

Fiorella on millennial paranoia about Earth-aimed asteroids, comets, aliens, and the like:

“If people believe in life on Mars, it’s probably because there is a need to look for a different kind of information-sharing, a need for education. All interest in astrology, [the] paranormal, asteroid and comet collision, what you can call maybe pop science — and for some scientists is such a negative word — for me, is a sign to keep on doing what I’m doing. If
there is some scientific misconception that people want to believe, I can inform them properly.”

Fiorella on wanting to believe:

“I do like The X-Files. You see, all of this reflects a new need in people. I think we are moving away from this materialistic universe and this society.”

Fiorella on the future:

“New issues are coming out. You go forward, you cannot go backward. I think we have had some fantastic landmarks. And also, we are really at a point where, if we do not pay attention to the way we pollute our planet, definitely we are going to have a catastrophic … destiny.”

Fiorella on how old she is:

“You want the real age? I like to say I am one Saturnian year old.”

Fiorella on one part of the epigraph to Heavenly Knowledge (“I would repaint the celestial vault with an equal number of female and male constellations.”):

“The night sky is predominantly male. Only four of 88 constellations are female, and we all know what kind of passive humans they are. There is the virgin, and one who is somehow sacrificed on a rock, and one who gives up her hair for a man.”

Fiorella on another part of the epigraph to Heavenly Knowledge (“It is to all women, cast into silence and shadow throughout these centuries of scientific and astronomical discovery, that I dedicate this book.”):

“I see more women — in science, in investment, in sports, in music — all coming up with their own programs, new research to help them in being more focused on what they can do. We are multitalented, multidisciplinary now — a businesswoman is a runner and a teacher and a bass player — which means we are breaking up the stereotype. No more ‘You are an
astrophysicist, period.’ In my case, you cannot take off science or music, or I am half. I need to use all the instruments that I have to be … Fiorella.”

Fiorella on aspirations:

“I would like to be a mission specialist for the space shuttle. It would be nice. And maybe get my Grammy award while I’m up there.”

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