UC student wins national physics fellowship

Doctoral student will explore questions about dark matter at Fermilab

A University of Cincinnati physics student was selected for a prestigious U.S. Department of Energy fellowship.

Lauren Street portrait.

UC physics student Lauren Street. Photo/Provided

UC College of Arts and Sciences doctoral student Lauren Street was awarded an Office of Science Graduate Student Research fellowship to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the Illinois-based national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics, where she will work on theoretical and computational research in high energy physics.

Previously, UC graduates Joshua Eby and Fady Bishara received the fellowships that allow students to conduct research for their graduate theses alongside department scientists at one of 14 national laboratories.

“The Department of Energy has long been where the nation turns for scientific solutions to complex challenges. Now more than ever we need to invest in a diverse, talented pipeline of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who can continue this legacy of excellence,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said. “I’m thrilled that these outstanding students will help us tackle mission-critical research at our labs, and I can’t wait to see what their futures hold.”

A pie graph of jellybeans representing matter depicts how 70 percent is dark energy, 25 percent is dark matter and 5 percent is visible matter.

What is dark matter? Scientists aren't exactly sure. But they believe dark matter and dark energy represent a majority of matter in the universe. Graphic/Fermilab

This year the Department of Energy awarded 78 fellowships to students at 55 universities around the country. The fellowships allow students to get experience in a national laboratory while working toward completing their research with the mentorship of the department’s scientists.

UC student Street said she will be exploring questions surrounding dark matter. Scientists think much of the known universe is made up of dark matter, but nobody has observed it directly.

What is dark matter?

“We don’t quite know,” Street said. “We see it in the rotation curves of galaxies. We can infer it when we look through our telescopes. But we haven’t observed it directly, so there are a lot of theories surrounding it.”

Street said she is excited at the prospect of meeting scientists who share her enthusiasm.

“Working in a national lab, you have people around you that can help you understand the astrophysics or theoretical physics behind these questions,” she said.

Street said she was drawn to the problem solving that makes up so much of theoretical physics.

“The theoretical side of physics is fun. It’s a really big puzzle — and I love solving puzzles,” she said.

A bank of computer hard drives.

UC physics student Lauren Street received a graduate student research fellowship to study dark matter at Fermilab, home to Fermilab’s Grid Computing Center. Photo/Al Johnson/Fermilab

Street’s adviser, UC physics professor L.C.R. Wijewardhana, said dark matter is an intriguing subject for both theoretical and experimental physics.

“I think she’s very clever,” speaking about his student. “She is dedicated and organized. She has a remarkable ability to multitask. She can work on a number of projects simultaneously and be successful,” he said.

Wijewardhana credited UC physics professor emeritus Peter Suranyi for advising students such as Street who are pursuing questions surrounding dark matter.

“It’s an exciting time for her. You get a chance to expand your horizons,” Wijewardhana said.

Featured image at top: The Hubble Space Telescope captures an image of interstellar gas and dust from the Carina Nebula. Photo/NASA-Goddard

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