Have you ever sat up all night contemplating the mysteries of the universe or the perplexities of nature? LSA senior Jacob Bourjaily frequently does.

Beth Dykstra
LSA senior Jacob Bourjaily explains his research on dark matter physics. Bourjaily, who recently won a Marshall Scholarship, writes a math equation on a blackboard. (Brandon McNaughton/Daily)

In fact, Bourjaily stays up all night, every other night — and these all-nighters paid off when late last year he was announced as a recipient of the 2005 Marshall Scholarship, a prestigious annual award given to forty American college graduates for their high academic achievements.

For Bourjaily, it was in part due to his extensive work in physics and math at the University, which earned him the award.

But while receiving the Marshall Scholarship was a great honor, Bourjaily is hoping he can surpass that achievement by attempting to solve the great mystery of dark matter.

Unlike ordinary matter, dark matter cannot be seen, but its existence is suggested by its gravitational effects.

Bourjaily, who has become the only undergraduate associate member of the University’s Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, researches this phenomena with Physics Prof. Gordon Kane.

In regards to dark matter, Bourjaily said “It’s not bricks; it’s not planets; it’s not cold stars; it’s really something else.”

“About 85 percent of all the matter in the universe is unlike any of the matter we have ever observed,” he added.

In an effort to better understand dark matter, Bourjaily’s work focuses on determining the composition of dark matter by examining how much dark matter is made up of weakly interacting massive particles or WIMPs. WIMPs are elementary particles that scientists speculate make up dark matter. If this is true, scientists may then be able to decipher other aspects of dark matter.

So far, there are no experiments that conclusively confirm the existence of WIMPs, but plans to do so are in development.

“(WIMPs) could be detected or produced in the near future. … If they are, we want to know how much of the dark matter they account for,” Bourjaily said, since other particles may be responsible for the properties of dark matter.

Bourjaily has already begun to establish himself as a theoretical physicist. He presented his research at a dark matter conference last summer in Edinburgh, Scotland and has written two scientific articles. Next month, he will be a colloquium speaker at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago.

The Marshall Scholarship will allow Bourjaily to study mathematics and physics for two years at the University of Cambridge, where he hopes to master all the mathematics he will need in order to solve ongoing problems in the realm of theoretical physics.

The scholarship lasts for two to three years and is awarded to eligible U.S. Citizens who have a bachelors degree with a GPA of 3.7 or higher. The recipients must choose to attend a University in the United Kingdom.

Bourjaily, now 20, grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is the fifth generation of his family to attend the University. He decided to major in physics while taking courses at Calvin College during his senior year of high school. And after reading one of the most popular and famous physics lectures, the “Feynman Lectures on Physics.” By the time he came to the University, he was determined to pursue physics as his major.

When Bourjaily finishes at the University at the end of this term, he will have an honors degree in both mathematics and physics after being here for only three years. He has taken thirteen graduate courses in mathematics and physics, which is more than what most graduate students have to take.

When asked what his motivation is, Bourjaily said, he wishes to make the most of his life by pursuing his research in the only limited lifespan he has.

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