Summer Centered: Gerrit Farren '20 Takes Matter Into His Own Hands
A native of Germany, the physics major will return to Europe this summer to conduct theoretical physics research that will be used to construct a model of the Big Bang.
For the second summer in a row, physics major Gerrit Farren ‘20 will leave the United States to conduct physics research. This time, it’ll be on cosmology, a subfield of physics that seeks to answer some of the fundamental questions surrounding the structure of the universe. Last year, the German native worked at the Jülich Research Center, which is only about 45 minutes from his hometown of Mönchengladbach; this time, he’ll be traveling to much more unfamiliar territory.
Thanks to funding from the Koshland Natural Sciences Center (KINSC)'s Summer Scholars program, Farren will study axions, theoretical particles of dark matter, in Professor of Astrophysics and Cosmology Andrew H. Jaffe’s Imperial College, London lab. Because only about 4.9 percent of the universe is comprised of ordinary matter, Farren explains, the existence of another type of matter is a foregone conclusion. As this so-called “dark matter” can interact with ordinary matter only in a gravitational capacity, however, scientists don’t really have any concrete idea of what it is.
Farren hopes that his work will help to change that. He’ll be taking advantage of a physical principle, the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect, to visualize the structure of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the form the radiation left over from the Big Bang has taken on.
“The [ultimate] aim of this project,” he says, “is going to be to examine whether these observations are able to provide evidence for or against the existence of axions.”
He is particularly looking forward to the opportunity to “combine physics, math, and computer science in a unique way to gain a better understanding of complex ideas.” And he hopes that such work will help him develop a more concrete sense of the specific type of theoretical physics he wants to study in graduate school.
It was Farren’s relationship with professors in Haverford’s physics department that proved instrumental to his being offered this internship.
“Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy Bruce Partridge reached out to a couple of his colleagues on my behalf, which is how I got in touch with Professor Andrew H. Jaffe at Imperial,” Farren says. “We then worked with [Associate Professor of Physics] Daniel Grin in finding an appropriate focus.”
Farren’s research is almost mind-boggling in scope. It will be used to help clarify the origins of the universe. But big ideas fuel his work as a physicist-in-training. This past semester, he worked with two separate initiatives—the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Planck mission and the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) project—to quite literally shed light on the nature of dark matter. Now he’s eager to follow up his work with them in London. While he’s “honestly not quite sure [what a typical day in the lab will look like yet],” he’s certainly excited to find out.