To infinity and beyond

Daniel Freeman’s curiosity about the world physics started in high school, where two of his physics teachers sparked his interest in pursuing a degree in physics.  Upon entering Texas A&M University Freeman decided to pursue a double major in physics and mathematics to capture a better understanding of the field of theoretical physics. Thanks to his thesis advisor Dr. Bhaskar Dutta, Freeman became interested in the subject of inflation, the period of rapid growth in the size of universe following the Big Bang. For his hard work and outstanding quality of his research Freeman has been awarded the 2012 Outstanding Thesis Award for Undergraduate Research Scholars. 

The Research Scholars program allows students who are interested in undergraduate research to create their own research project. With the guidance of a faculty mentor these students write an undergraduate thesis over the course of two semesters. Theses are submitted to the Texas A&M University Thesis office where they are made electronically available via the Texas A&M University Libraries digital repository.

Freeman’s research focused on what happened immediately following the universes creation, a phenomenon called inflation. Freeman took a mathematical approach to answering this question by applying models of quintessential inflation.  Not only did Freeman test these models against known astronomical data, but he also examined the predictive power of the models.  “What’s interesting is that today, in modern times, billions of years after inflation, we observe something very similar to inflation happening – basically, the universe is starting to expand again,” Freeman said of his research.

An important aspect of research such as this is to identify which models are helpful in revealing what happened following the Big Bang and which models are no longer useful.  Through Freeman’s tests of different quintessential inflation models, he found that the components he tested did not have much predictive value.  While these models might not have been any better at predicting how the universe will change in the future than others, Freeman sees the value in researching such ideas.  “Perhaps, in a hundred years, we will have a good reason to think one field governs these problems, and the next generation of physicists will see that yet another century old curiosity turned out to be on the right track, if a bit off the mark,” wrote Freeman in his Scholars Thesis. 

Freeman credits his undergraduate research experiences as being the most fulfilling thing he has done as an undergraduate.  “Getting exposure to research early is hugely beneficial, and I really appreciate having had the opportunity,” he said. Following his graduation this May Freeman will be attending the University of California at Berkeley, where he will pursue a PhD in physical chemistry.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

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