October 17, 2018  

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Astrophysicist Spergel Shares Insights on NASA Research of Universe

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Dr. David Nathaniel Spergel

Simple, yet strange. That’s how Princeton astrophysicist Dr. David Nathaniel Spergel characterized the universe during his visit to The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Hattiesburg campus to deliver the Oct. 2 University Forum lecture "Our Simple and Strange Universe." The program was co-sponsored by USM’s Rayborn Lecture Series in Physics.

A MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” recipient and cited among the “25 Most Influential People in Space” by Time, Spergel works with NASA to explore the mysterious dark matter and dark energy forming up to 95 percent of the universe. His research interests range from the search for planets around nearby stars to the shape of the universe. He is currently co-chair of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) – a mission concept to answer vital questions in both exoplanet detection and dark energy research.

Spergel discussed the research he has done with NASA to map the universe during the lecture and in meetings with USM students earlier in the day, including the work conducted in cosmology over the last 20 years. Reiterating the title of his lecture, Spergel said that the “universe is both simple and remarkably strange – we don’t know its origin or fate.

“But, we have the possibility of discovering more about its composition in the coming years,” he said, based on NASA missions and research on the ground, adding that continued government support of these efforts  is essential for the U.S. to remain the global leader in astrophysics research.

“It’s a thrill to have him at USM. The list of his awards and recognitions in our field is exceptional – it proves challenging in making his introduction,” said Dr. Michael Vera, associate professor of physics, who gave Dr. Spergel a tour of the Hattiesburg campus and introduced him to physics majors. “He’s about as accomplished as you can get in the world of physics, and a great example for our students of the things you can do if you put the work in.”

For information about University Forum, visit https://www.usm.edu/honors/about-university-forum. For information about USM’s program in physics and astronomy, visit https://www.usm.edu/physics.