Life of a Cosmology Graduate Student

December 14, 2022

Zachery Brown in the lab

Growing up, I never imagined that I’d become a physicist. I always enjoyed my physics classes, but was convinced that I’d study engineering in college. Yet as a high school senior, I took an electricity and magnetism course that really caught my attention. And as it happened, I attended a small liberal arts college without an engineering program. I made the decision to major in physics instead.

Then I was hooked. From day one in my department, I knew studying physics was for me. And I only appreciated it more as we moved from more mundane mechanics to underlying physical principles. I was really impressed by my professors’ ability to deconstruct a problem into its most fundamental elements. By then, I knew I wanted to attend graduate school, and hopefully join the field.

I did not know much about the University of Rochester’s program prior to applying. After attending the accepted students' weekend events, I knew this was the right department. By the end of the first day, I the number of physicists I spoke with was double or triple the size of my undergraduate department. I gawked at the size and scope of the equipment and instruments in the laser lab. This was a place committed to physics research in a way I’d never experienced. It was an easy choice to come here for my PhD. 

Now, in my sixth year, I look back and am very glad to have made this choice. I’m a member of the cosmology group here at UR, working with Regina Demina as my advisor. We are members of a collaboration called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI). DESI is a survey designed to map out the positions of millions of galaxies and quasars. As cosmologists, we’re interested in the physical conditions of the very early Universe. Those processes affect the distribution of matter at the largest scales. The galaxies mapped by DESI help us trace that distribution, and give us a window into the physics of a much earlier in time in the history of our Universe. The work has been challenging, but rewarding. And truthfully, learning about the Universe’s most fundamental properties is cool! This is what it’s all about!

Overall, it’s been good to be a graduate student here at UR. I feel like I have gone from someone enamored by the physics world, to a member of it. That never would have happened if not for the connections I have made, and the experiences I have had in this department.