Astrophysics, Galaxy Clusters and the Key to the Universe

During the fall of 2016, Anya Nugent ’18 began looking into researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) who were doing work in astrophysics or cosmology.

Berkeley Lab, where Nugent also worked last summer, is a member of the national lab system supported by the U.S Department of Energy, and conducts research across a vast range of scientific disciplines.

Technologies developed at Berkeley have generated thousands of jobs, and billions of dollars in revenue.

This summer, Nugent is participating in Berkeley Lab Undergraduate Research (BLUR) program to study galaxy clustering. After contacting Shirley Ho, the senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, Nugent was put in contact with Ho’s post-doc, Chamberlain and Einstein Fellow Zachary Slepian.

Slepian, Nugent’s mentor, and Nugent discussed several possible research projects to pursue over the summer, but eventually decided to study galaxy clustering as a way to learn more about dark energy and General Relativity. “Though we know that dark energy and gravity affect how distances between objects change with time, we still do not completely understand their fundamental properties. By studying galaxy clustering, we can expand our knowledge of these topics, which is key to comprehending how our universe works,” she said. 

To measure galaxy clustering, Slepian and Nugent are using a three-point correlation function (3PCF), which examines triangles formed by galaxy triplets by measuring two triangle sides and the angle between them. Traditionally, the 3PCF has been too computationally complex to measure. However, Slepian discovered a new way of analyzing galaxy triplets, which, in turn, altered the scale of the function, thus making it less complex. A group at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) was able to make a code for this innovative algorithm, which will soon be used to analyze the results from the 3PCF and galaxy clustering.                                                                   

Anya Nugent ’18

Concentration: physics and Hispanic studies double major

Hometown: Orinda, Calif.

High School: Campolindo High School

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Before the code can be used for scientific purposes, the team must implement an edge correction code and a method for weighting data correctly, which is Nugent’s part of the project. The edge correction code will adjust jagged astronomical survey boundaries, which normally would negatively affect the results.

The work Nugent is doing at BLUR will culminate with a paper and presentation at the end of the summer, but her research concerning the 3PCF will not end there. “Once we’ve finished these codes, we can start running them on astronomical surveys and simulations so we can analyze the 3PCF and galaxy clustering. This is research I will be doing in the spring for my thesis,” said Nugent.


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