Undergraduate Research

Ehsanullah Nikfar '25

OUR Featured Researcher: Ehsanullah Nikfar '25

Ehsanullah Nikfar
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Ehsanullah Nikfar (he/him) is a Physics and Computer Science major conducting mentored research under Professor Jason Stalnaker. His project is titled “Axion Star Search". 

Please describe your projects: 

As a part of the Global Network of Optical Magnetometers for Exotic Physics (GNOME), we are looking for Dark matter interactions in form of the axion-like particle (ALPs) using a network of highly sensitive magnetometers spread across the globe. These ALPs, Characterized by a large number density and certain types of self-interactions, could exist in form of axion stars. The ALPs’ interaction with elementary particle spins creates a pseudo-magnetic field that can be detected using a magnetometer by measuring shifts in the atomic energy levels. GNOME is looking for a transient signal caused by such exotic-spin couplings as the Earth passes through the dark matter structures. As a data analyst, I try to develop methods that help to remove the background noises and pinpoint the transient signal.

Why is your research important?

Discovering dark matter would be a big breakthrough not only in the field of physics but also in other branches of science. It changes our understanding of the universe’s size, shape, evolution, and formation.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

A normal day in my research is reading research papers, gradauted students’ thesis, and discussing with my mentor to develop better methods that help us to pinpoint the transient signal we are looking for.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

The methods we are developing in our research can be used in our areas of physics.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?  

I am a Strong Scholar. One part of this program is to give the students the opportunity to do research in their first year. I was fortunate to be assigned in research related to my field and aligned with my interests.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process? 

One aspect of research for me is that it requires perseverance. At first, everything is challenging, but after putting in enough effort and patience, everything would become straightforward.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project and how has it impacted you as a researcher? 

Starting research at first was scary for me, but my mentor was supportive enough which helped me to build the necessary skills I lacked, and increase my confidence level in doing research.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?     

It has helped me to build strong connections with professors from different part of the world and build my skills in computer science and physics.   

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?    

Never be daunted to ask for help! Savor your successes, learn to accept and benefit from criticism, and persevere and learn from your setbacks.