Hume A. Feldman
Mentor Spotlight | Winter 2020-2021
Department: Physics & Astronomy
Describe your research/creative scholarship in a few sentences that we can all understand:
I am a cosmologist and an astrophysicist. I investigate the way the Universe is on its largest scales and study its origin, evolution, large-scale-structure, and fate. My research focuses on the early Universe, its emergence and the synthesis of elements we are all made of. Specifically, I look into the dynamics and statistics of the distribution of matter in the Universe. I also investigate the existence and distribution of dark energy and dark matter, the 95% of the Universe we do not see directly and only observe when looking at very large scales. I am particularly interested in the expansion of the Universe and the rate of change of this expansion.
Q: How did you first get interested in doing research or creative work?
A: I read a book about particle physics and cosmology, the connection between and dependence of the largest and smallest scales in the Universe. It blew my mind and I never looked back.
Q: What do students in your discipline learn by doing research that they wouldn’t learn by just taking classes?
A: Research in physics accomplishes two main goals. 1. The ability to approach and solve truly complex problems, regardless of the field. 2. The search for understanding on how the Universe works, from its smallest scales (quantum field theories and particle physics) through intermediate scales (e.g., nano systems – computers, phones, solar cells, energy extraction, etc., quantum information and big data) to macroscopic extraterrestrial systems (solar system, galaxies, blackholes, clusters of galaxies) and the really cosmic scales (the large-scale- structure – Big Bang – origin, evolution, and fate of the Universe.)
Q: What do you find to be the most exciting part of doing research or creative work? What makes this line of work meaningful and interesting to you?
A: Going where no person has gone before. Research is a real detective story. We develop hypotheses to explain how things work, find clues (observational, experimental) and follow them to test the hypothesis, modify the model (or scrap it) and move on. It is like searching in a dark alley, you never know where it will take you or what you will find. As I said – exciting. All the while you have to rely on your imagination, your creativity, on thinking out of the box. It is an incredibly expressive, inventive, and sometimes even visionary in its scope. People assume that science and art are the polar opposites. Strangely enough we all employ the same ideas and the same creative energies; our tools may be different, but it is the human spirit that is at the bottom of our endeavors, and the force that propels us forward.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates interested in doing research in your field?
A: Be patient, be open to surprises, develop your intuition, your technical skills, collaborate, talk to people, pick their brains, be ready for disappointments, be ready for elation, for fulfillment. Sometimes when you walk into a blind alley, you will bang your head or toe. Other times you may find real treasures buried just out of reach.
Q: For many students, doing research or a larger creative project is the first time they have done work that routinely involves setbacks and the need to troubleshoot problems. Can you tell us about a time that your research didn’t go as expected? Or about any tricks or habits that you’ve developed to help you stay resilient in the face of obstacles?
A:Rarely does research go as expected. One hits brick walls all the time. Most of the easy topics were investigated and solved. The key is to pay attention to the hurdles, try to see what they tell you, what can we learn from them. Many times failure teaches us more than success. If we let the fear of failure stop us, we will accomplish very little. We all fail, we all stumble, we all fall down and hurt ourselves (metaphorically speaking). Then we get up, brush ourselves, and move on. Persistence, perseverance, dedication, and commitment are necessary. It is not always easy, but if these types of things exhilarate you, then it is totally worth it.
Q: How do you spend your time outside of work?
A: I play the piano and guitar, and listen to a lot of music. I like to do some woodworking, sailing, skiing, hiking, and, as of lately, a lot of gardening. Reading, reading, and then some more reading.