The universe is, of course, a very large place. But when we look at the universe, we’re only able to observe about 5% of it. Astrophysicists are trying to learn more about that other 95%, theoretically made up of “dark matter” and “dark energy.” Several major contributions to the study of dark matter have been made by Dr. Katherine Freese.
Freese was born in Germany on February 8, 1957, the daughter of molecular biologists. But her family came to the U.S. when she still a baby. She was inspired to pursue physics by Einstein and his theory of relativity, which she discovered in a summer course she took at fifteen.
She earned a BA from Princeton University, she says as far as she knows she was only the second woman to major in physics at the school. She went on to earn an MA from Columbia University before attending University of Chicago for her doctoral studies. She is now a professor of physics at University of Michigan and director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Through Freese’s work in dark matter and dark energy, she has come up with several methods to try to detect dark matter, and experiments to test these methods are underway. She has also theorized “a new phase of stellar evolution,” a “dark star” powered by dark matter annihilation.
Her work has taken her all the way back to the beginning of the universe itself, creating a natural inflation model for the Big Bang. She has also looked forward to the far future and how dark energy may be accelerating the expansion of the universe and what that means for life “as we know it.”
In addition to her many scholarly papers, she also wrote a book, The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter. In the book, she brings her research to the general public and talks about her experiences as a woman in the field of physics. As a professor and advisor, she continues to inspire and mentor future generations.
Written by Mary Ratliff