This fall, May graduate Jakob Faber will begin a nine-month research fellowship collaborating with astrophysicists to better understand the source of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) at the McGill University Space Institute in Montréal, Canada.
For Faber, a physics and philosophy major with a concentration in astrophysics, entry into the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) with Professor Vicky Kaspi is an aspiration come to fruition. Encouraged by his Oberlin mentor, Emeritus Professor of Physics Dan Stinebring, Faber was first introduced to the CHIME/FRB collaboration during a summer research fellowship following his second year.
“I got to know Professor Kaspi as a supportive and inspiring advisor, as well as her team of remarkably talented grad students and postdocs, many of whom have remained close collaborators and friends over the past two years,” says Faber, who went on to do research related to FBRs with a group at the University of California-Berkeley the following summer, and has continued that work this past year. Ultimately, “CHIME/FRB is a collaboration that I have always hoped I would go back to.”
Faber says he is primarily interested in trying to answer a question that seems simple yet is anything but: What causes Fast Radio Bursts? In lay terms, FRBs are extragalactic radio signals. The CHIME telescope, located in southern British Columbia, has detected many of these bursts, and astronomers are using it to determine the origin of the signals.
“Understanding the astrophysical origins of Fast Radio Bursts is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly difficult,” says Faber. “My research will mainly consist of furthering the model- and data-driven theoretical efforts that are being made to leverage CHIME’s wealth of observations—making up one of the greatest data sets in modern-day astronomy—in testing and constraining our best astrophysical models for FRB progenitors and their emission physics.
“When a burst of radio waves travels through the interstellar medium (the stuff between stars in the galaxy) and the intergalactic medium (the stuff between galaxies), it encounters electrons and magnetic fields that cause it to scatter, almost like a laser beam shining through fog, and change in characteristic ways, both in intensity and polarization,” Faber explains. “One of the things we would like to do is separate the features imposed by the medium through which a burst is passing from the features inherent to the source. By trying to ‘undo’ the effects of the intervening material, we can not only better understand the medium but we can, in some sense, place ourselves an entire galactic distance (or even an intergalactic distance) closer to the source—thereby making it easier to identify its properties.”
Following the nine-month Fulbright fellowship, Faber will begin a PhD in astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology.
Over the past three years at Oberlin, Faber collaborated with Professor Stinebring on several projects that involved major research conferences and international travel, including a project to understand how radio waves behave as they travel through interstellar space. The pair used large radio telescopes to observe pulsars, seen as highly energetic pulses of radio waves in the sky.
Outside of science, playing chamber music was a significant part of Faber’s Oberlin experience. As a violinist, he played with the Margnité Quartet. “I owe that entirely to the mentorship that I’ve received from Dean Chris Jenkins and the Verona Quartet in the conservatory.”
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