The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has given Overholt and two other professors in the Kansas City area half a million dollars to try and examine the effects of a nearby supernova. They are in year two of their three year experiment.
“My research is centered around how stars affect life here on earth,” Overholt said. “In this case, if a star explodes, what happens to life on earth? Does everything die? Do some things die? Does nothing die? Nobody knows. That is what we are trying to figure out.”
These professors try to figure this out by designing computer programs to simulate outcomes for hypothetical situations. Overholt decided to look at direct radiation from cosmic rays, high-energy space particles that hit the earth from all directions. This is called secondary radiation.
“There is lots of stuff flying out and as it hits us it creates these showers of particles in the sky and creates this secondary radiation, which gives you cancer,” Overholt said. “That is what I am concentrating on – looking at the likelihood of getting cancer due to one of these events. We've also looked at solar flares and supernovae.”
In addition to his research for NASA, Overholt has been involved in several grant programs including the SEEDS grant which educates science teachers about next-generation science standards coming up for public schools. Overholt and others on the grant are helping educators prepare, change and adapt to these new standards.
Overholt is passionate about teaching physics at MidAmerica. He said that he loves thinking about the universe from a new perspective.
“It’s about viewing the world in a different way,” Overholt said. “Sometimes it’s hard, but at the end of the day it enriches your life to have a different viewpoint.”
Overholt said that physics is about the very nature of God’s creation. He sees it as a form of worship, as a way to learn more about God through the way he designed the world.
“It is the most fundamental science and it is about God’s creation in the rawest form and trying to figure it out and make sense out of all of it,” Overholt said.
Teaching is a passion of Overholt’s. He said he loves to see his students adapt to situations, learn something new and grow during their time at MidAmerica.
Overholt wants to push all of his students to find the beauty in everyday life. He says that we've been given an amazing creation and amazing minds which are able to comprehend at least a small part of it.
“The universe is a very amazing and interesting and beautiful creation and it is deeper and more interesting and more beautiful than any of us know,” Overholt said. “And I would push any of them to try and find a little bit more of that beauty in any way.