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Michael Phelps talks about the secrets of his success (and that shark 'race') at ASU

Michael Phelps' advice to ASU crowd: Write down goals, ask for help when needed.
SAP CEO: Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals your true character.
July 24, 2017

Olympian shares stage with software company CEO Bill McDermott; both discuss how they overcame profound adversity

For Michael Phelps, the journey to becoming the greatest Olympian in history began with a piece of paper.

“Write down your goals,” he told a room full of Arizona State University students Monday evening on the Tempe campus.

“I was taught at an early age to write my goals down, and I’ve been doing it since I was 11 years old. I put them in a place I could see them every day.”

Phelps discussed his path to glory as part of a presentation on leadership called “The Winning Move” that also featured Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP, a global technology company.

“I went through ups and downs personally, publicly, in the pool. There were times I was more dedicated than not,” said Phelps, who has won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold.

“The great ones do things when they don’t want to. Every day I woke up at 5 or 6 in the morning to jump in a cold pool after being in a nice warm bed. It wasn’t fun, but I had goals I wanted to achieve. It was 365 days a year, 100,000 yards a week.”

McDermott discussed how, when he was a 16-year-old living in Long Island, N.Y., he bought the corner deli he was working at for $7,000. For him, it was a practical move.

“I went from having three part-time jobs to having one,” he said.

Both men have been tested by profound personal adversity. In 2015, McDermott fell down the stairs while holding a glass of water. A shard of glass went through his left eye, and he suffered great blood loss. He lost his eye and endured nearly a dozen surgeries.

“People said, ‘That must have built a lot of character in you.’ It didn’t build an ounce of character, but it did reveal everything about my character,” he said.

In 2014, Phelps was in dark place after facing his second charge of driving under the influence.

“I had no self-confidence, no self-love. I hated myself. I was at a place where I didn’t want to be alive anymore. It took me a long time to look in a mirror and like who I saw,” he said.

“That moment where I put my hand out for help, I found out who I am.”

Both men said that they hope to be remembered for more than their career achievements.

“As you get advanced in this leadership game, it’s not just wanting to be somebody. It’s about doing something and leaving your mark on the world,” said McDermott, whose company hires a lot of young people just out of college.

“Young people today don’t want to work unless they can change the world too,” he said of changing SAP’s corporate culture to embrace inclusion.

Phelps started an eponymous foundation in 2008 that promotes water safety for kids, but he’s especially passionate about a new project that addresses mental health. He has been working with the company Medibio on a wearable device that tracks mental health indicators.

“I’ve been talking about mental health, destigmatizing it. I sat next to an 11-year-old boy the other day who wanted to kill himself,” Phelps said.

“I’ve been able to overcome these obstacles, but I didn’t do it alone. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not be OK.”

Phelps came to Arizona in 2015, following his longtime coach Bob Bowman, who had been named head coach of the Sun Devil swim teams. Phelps then trained for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center at ASU. He immersed himself in Sun Devil life, appearing in the “Curtain of Distraction” at a men’s basketball game in January 2016 and swimming in an exhibition race during an ASU meet. A few months before he won six medals at the Rio Olympics, he got married and had a son.

“For me, mentally, to see sunshine and blue skies every day is awesome,” he said. “People always ask if I’m coming back, but I’m content with what I achieved in my swimming career.”

But his competitive spark isn’t completely gone. Phelps was part of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” programming, which broadcast a simulated “race” on Sunday night, comparing Phelps’ time against that of a great white shark. The shark was faster by two seconds.

“I got whooped,” Phelps said. “That’s a butt beating to me. Instantly after the race I tweeted, ‘Rematch!’ ”


Top photo: Michael Phelps talks about how he sets goals during "The Winning Move," a conversation facilitated by sports analyst Rosalyn Gold-Onwude between Phelps and SAP CEO Bill McDermott on Monday in Tempe. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU astronomers find young galaxies that appeared soon after the Big Bang

July 25, 2017

Using powerful Dark Energy Camera in Chile, researchers reach the cosmic dawn

ASU astronomers Sangeeta Malhotra and James Rhoads, working with international teams in Chile and China, have discovered 23 young galaxies, seen as they were 800 million years after the Big Bang. The results from this sample have been recently published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Long ago, about 300,000 years after the beginning of the universe (the Big Bang), the universe was dark. There were no stars or galaxies, and the universe was filled with neutral hydrogen gas. In the next half-billion years or so, the first galaxies and stars appeared. Their energetic radiation ionized their surroundings, illuminating and transforming the universe.

This dramatic transformation, known as re-ionization, occurred sometime in the interval between 300 million years and 1 billion years after the Big Bang. Astronomers are trying to pinpoint this milestone more precisely, and the galaxies found in this study help in this determination.

“Before re-ionization, these galaxies were very hard to see, because their light is scattered by gas between galaxies, like a car’s headlights in fog,” Malhotra said. “As enough galaxies turn on and ‘burn off the fog’ they become easier to see. By doing so, they help provide a diagnostic to see how much of the ‘fog’ remains at any time in the early universe.

Milestones in the history of the universe
Milestones in the history of the Universe (not to scale). The intergalactic gas was in a neutral state from about 300,000 years after the Big Bang until light from the first generation of stars and galaxies began to ionize it. The gas was completely ionized after 1 billion years. The LAGER study takes a close look at the state of the Universe at 800 million years (yellow box) to investigate when and how this transformation occurred. Image courtesy of National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

The Dark Energy Camera

To detect these galaxies, Malhotra and Rhoads have been using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), one of the new powerful instruments in the astronomy field. DECam is installed at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)’s 4-meter Blanco Telescope, located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), in northern Chile, at an altitude of 7,200 feet.

“Several years ago, we carried out a similar study using a 64-megapixel camera that covers the same amount of sky as the full moon,” Rhoads said. “DECam, by comparison, is a 570-megapixel camera and covers 15 times the area of the full moon in a single image.”

DECam was recently made even more powerful when it was equipped with a special narrowband filter, designed at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), primarily by Rhoads and Zhenya Zheng (who was a SESE postdoctoral fellow and is currently at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China), with assistance from Alistair Walker of NOAO.

“We spent several months refining the design of the filter profile, optimizing the design to get maximum sensitivity in our search,” said Zheng, the lead author of this study.

Touching the cosmic dawn

The galaxy search using the ASU-designed filter and DECam is part of the ongoing “Lyman Alpha Galaxies in the Epoch of Reionization” project (LAGER). It is the largest uniformly selected sample that goes far enough back in the history of the universe to reach cosmic dawn.

“The combination of large survey size and sensitivity of this survey enables us to study galaxies that are common but faint, as well as those that are bright but rare, at this early stage in the universe,” said Malhotra.

Junxian Wang, a co-author on this study and the lead of the Chinese LAGER team, adds that “our findings in this survey imply that a large fraction of the first galaxies that ionized and illuminated the universe formed early, less than 800 million years after the Big Bang.”

The next steps for the team will be to build on these results. They plan to continue to search for distant star-forming galaxies over a larger volume of the universe and to further investigate the nature of some of the first galaxies in the universe.  

Top photo: CTIO Blanco Telescope in Chile. Photo by Tim Abbott/CTIO

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager , School of Earth and Space Exploration