|[Home] [Fellows] [2008 Fellows] [Joshua Wickman]|
Research: My area of research lies in the intersection between two seemingly unrelated topics, particle physics and cosmology. Particle physics (or high energy physics) focuses on the smallest objects that make up the world around us – subatomic particles such as quarks and neutrinos, and the interactions between them. Cosmology is the study of the largest of the largest – the universe – and how it developed over time into what we see today. The missing link that connects these two domains is the Big Bang. Early in the history of the universe, everything we see out in space (and everything we don’t see, for that matter) was contained in a very small space. In other words, the density of particles/energy was incredibly high, meaning interactions between particles had a huge influence on the evolution of the universe.
Although the Big Bang explains why our universe is expanding, this theory is incomplete. There are a handful of major cosmological puzzles on which the Big Bang theory is silent. These can be accounted for by extending the theory, introducing a period very early in the development of the universe in which extremely rapid expansion took place. This idea is known as Cosmic Inflation.
My research so far has focused on improving the theoretical models of Cosmic Inflation. I compare results of mathematical calculations to data collected by satellite experiments such as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). This allows us to explore various ways in which Inflation could have taken place, in an effort to better understand the universe in which we live.
In the classroom: Any scientist will tell you that scientific research is vital to the advancement of human knowledge. But research alone is not enough and is, in fact, utterly useless if the knowledge we gain is not effectively passed on to the next generation. Since science is done by building upon previous knowledge, it is especially critical to ensure that the most basic ideas are conveyed in an understandable and interesting way. If this is achieved, then the mystical notion that “science is something so difficult that it is out of most people’s reach” is unraveled to reveal that scientific discovery and inquiry are an intrinsic part of our everyday lives.
This ideology has been central in my approach to teaching. Tim Brewer, Jessica Jackson, Dana Boltuch and I have worked together to break down the barriers in the minds of students that prevent them from connecting with scientific concepts. We have employed many different approaches, including a variety of hands-on activities, web-based research projects, interactive multimedia, and class discussions. We have formulated and administered both a Problem Based Learning (PBL) activity centered around designing a telescope, and an alternative exam format aimed at providing students with the means to respond in whatever way they feel will best convey their understanding (e.g. orally, or through drawing a picture).