Creighton Returns From Internship With Knowledge to Share

Chris Creighton, ’11, will have knowledge to share with his physics professors at Albion College after completing an internship funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant at the University of Michigan this summer.

Working under the direction of program coordinator Jim Liu, Creighton was a member of a team studying dark matter.

“The matter we think about, like a table, only takes up about four percent of the mass of the universe,” Creighton explained. “So we don’t know what approximately 96 percent of the universe is.”

Creighton described the research much like a playground game of tetherball where the ball moves slowly around the pole at the beginning but the speed increases as the rope attached to the ball continues to wrap around the pole.

“The dark matter I’m looking at deals with the velocity at which galaxies spin,” he added. “In the models, the speed at which galaxies spin is not evenly distributed. There is more mass on the outside of the galaxy and we don’t know what it is. That’s one of the reasons why scientists think there is other mass out there.

“Another example is when astronomers look at galaxies through telescopes, there is a relativity theory that says light can bend around mass,” he added. “If you at a galaxy and see something massive in front of it, you’ll see a distortion like a little ring around it. There’s nothing in front of it, but it’s still distorted. Astronomers theorize there is some mass in front of it. They can’t tell what the mass is because they can’t see it.”

Since Albion does not offer a course in particle theory, Creighton said he spent most of his time reading articles at the beginning of the internship. A double major in physics and mathematics, Creighton said he understood the mathematics involved in the work but he had to work at mastering the physics.

“It took a while to understand the theory,” Creighton admitted. “The only actual physics class I’ve had so far was mechanics because you go into the advanced level physics classes after you learn the math. I would sit in Professor Liu’s office and I would be scribbling notes from his lecture. I have learned a lot this summer.”

Creighton has put his foundation in mathematics to work by trying to extrapolate meaning from data by comparing the distribution to models created by the scientist.

“I’ve become a much better programmer in Mathematica (a piece of software used at Albion) and the whole experience has taught me how the atmosphere is more research oriented in graduate school,” he said.

Creighton’s experience has not been limited to Ann Arbor. His research group took a field trip to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., home to one of the largest particle accelerators in the world and another research site where scientists are investigating dark matter.

When he returns to the Albion campus in August for the fall semester Creighton and Sam Strasser will focus on the advanced level physics classes like electricity and magnetism and electronics. Creighton was involved in mathematics courses while Strasser took advantage of an opportunity to study in Japan last spring.