By Karen Flores, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Bart Horn, Ph.D., associate professor of physics at Manhattan College, received a $135,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his research on early universe evolution and cosmology.
According to manhattan.edu, the grant’s title is “Pion Lagrangian for Large Scale Structure in Cosmology” and it is part of the NSF’s Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program, which aims to aid research projects that involve undergraduate students.
Horn is working alongside Bhavya Mishra, a junior computer science major with a minor in astronomy, and David Muqattash, a junior physics major. They hope to collect and analyze data for algorithms used to help create simulations of the evolution of large-scale structures (LSS), or the pattern of galaxies and clusters of galaxies, in the early universe.
Horn explained to The Quadrangle that one of the goals of the research is to be able to develop new computational and theoretical techniques to make sense of the data collected from the large-scale structure.
“Before now, the sources of precision data have been looking at the cosmic microwave background, which is a very clean data source, but it’s only a two-dimensional map,” Horn explained. “With large-scale structure, we have a three-dimensional universe to look at. But the problem is messy. A lot has happened in the last few billion years and it takes a bit to sort it out.”
Mishra began looking for research opportunities at the beginning of his freshman year and approached Horn during his physics 101 class to discuss ways in which he could do research with him.
“He was actually more than eager to introduce me to this professional research field,” Mishra said. “It was a good coincidence I must say that he needed someone from computer science to work with the layout and designing of the simulations.”
Mishra is interested in astrophysics and hopes that he can merge both computer science and physics in a way that connects with astronomy. He believes that being a part of this research has aided in the growth of his knowledge on both sides.
“I’m trying to merge these two fields together. Astrophysics on its own is more theoretical,” Mishra said. “But when you want to implement them or experiment with them, you need some kind of simulation made through code so you can visualize a piece of the universe. I’m learning a lot about how to bring them closer day by day, it’s very interesting.”
Muqattash found that being involved in this research has allowed him to gain skills outside of his major and strengthen his understanding of what he is taught in the classroom.
“Coding is an amazing skill that I’ve begun to learn with this research,” Muqattash said. “On top of that, I’m having an early go at some of the more advanced topics and concepts in physics which will definitely help in the leap from classes to jobs or from classes to research. To be able to emulate this in a safe academic environment is very helpful.”
Mishra and Muqattash have taken part in presenting the research to various audiences, including the Jasper Summer Research symposium and the 41 Rochester Society of Physics Students Zone 2 Conference.
Muqattash recalled what it was like to present at the summer symposium and said that while daunting, it felt very good to present what he had been working on.
“At the start, I was quite worried to be honest because it is daunting to do research about something like physics,” Muqattash said. “I started off not knowing much yet I ended up doing a presentation on our findings in front of a bunch of people. In the end it was really cool and nice to show what we had been working on.”
Mishra said that presenting at the 41 Rochester Society of Physics Students Zone 2 Conference was different from the summer symposium because the audience involved more people within the field of studies related to their research. He shared similar sentiments as Muqattash, saying it was enthralling to share their work with others.
“The conference in Rochester was intended for physics students, so you get specific questions from a diverse audience of physics students, postdocs and researchers which is different from the summer symposium but presenting at both, it was enthralling,” Mishra said. “It gives you a thrill when you’re presenting something that you did religiously for a long time. And then you get to talk about what you did in front of people who are there to listen to you.”
Horn hopes that students remain proactive and reach out to their faculty members should they find a research topic interesting and encourage them to seek out interdisciplinary research as well.
“Be proactive, knock on doors, learn about what different people are doing, because finding a research project is a mix of what you are interested in and also what kind of style you ]work with,” Horn said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to professors in other departments as well because sometimes there’s connections to be made and they can be very beneficial to both faculty and students.”