Cosmic curiosity

Recent UWL graduate Evan Dowling, ’17, a mathematics and physics major, is completing a prestigious summer internship at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley, California. Here he is pictured with the lab’s ion beam accelerator. He is working to improve the real-time analysis of accelerator shots. Dowling originally heard about the lab opportunity from UWL Physics Assistant Professor Shelly Lesher.

Recent graduate grateful for support of his mind-expanding college experience

When Evan Dowling looks through a telescope into the night sky, he is fascinated by the beauty — and by the physics.

Those faraway galaxies appear frozen — as breathtaking swirls of stars — because of the time it takes something immensely large — an average distance of about 100,000 light years across — to move.

Dowling, who graduated in May, didn’t always have such an intense curiosity about the cosmos. He describes his freshman self as “ignorant — and I didn’t know it.”

“I’ve changed into someone who is slightly less naive, but with a much broader and open mindset who acknowledges my own limitations,” says Dowling. “UWL has lit a fire of curiosity to explore these areas that I know nothing about and to become a better, more aware, individual.”

Friends and professors at UWL had an infectious fascination with physics that inspired Dowling to explore the mysteries of the cosmos and much more. As a UWL student, he joined Physics Club, researched alongside faculty, became a teacher’s assistant, a physics tutor and earned prestigious internships at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab over the last two summers. He will attend graduate school where he intends to earn a doctoral degree in physics at University of Maryland-College Park in the fall. He aims to become a professional scientist one day.

Dowling received the Myrtle Trowbridge Scholarship during his undergraduate years, which he says made financial obligations related to his college experience less of a burden. For that, he can’t thank donors enough.

“I don’t come from a home that can fund my own education, so it falls on me to fund my own way,” says Dowling. “It means so much that there are people out there willing to help me reach my dreams.”

Doing research alongside Physics Professor Eric Barnes, Dowling studied how the motion of galaxies could actually be measured — even when they appear frozen over many human lifetimes. This is because computer simulations don’t need to evolve in normal time, rather they can simulate large time frames very quickly.

“I thought research on space was done either on blackboards or through telescopes, but it turns out computers are vital, if not the most essential tool, to analyzing certain things about the cosmos,” he says.

With Barnes, Dowling created computer models to study the behavior of large, self-gravitating systems that mimic dark matter halos that surround galaxies. They used these models to gain insight into why galaxies take the shape they do or the mechanism that allows them to change shape over time.

“When I began, it was my first real exposure to research and has since created a passion for investigating new things,” he says.

Research experience also helped him earn his summer internships at national labs.

“My experience there solidified my desire to go to graduate school and try and become a professional scientist,” he says. “This all had its origins at UWL.”