Student Spotlight: Joseph Bernstein
Major: Physical Science
College of DuPage graduate Joseph P. Bernstein, Ph.D. is an expert at dark energy and participates in a Dark Energy Survey collaboration.
The DES collaboration, which includes institutions from the U.S., Chile, Spain, the United Kingdom and Brazil, is building a 500-megapixel digital camera that will be mounted on the Blanco research telescope in Chile. It will collect data to help scientists better understand dark energy.
Bernstein works at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, and his group at Argonne is leading the effort to determine what strategy the DES should use to search for supernovae in the night sky.
"This involves simulating DES observations on the Blanco telescope," said Bernstein, who is among the leaders of the simulation effort and is the lead author on the DES supernova strategy journal paper. "Understanding dark energy has been described as one of the most important challenges of modern science."
Bernstein explained that in 1998, distant supernovae of a specific subtype were discovered to be fainter than they would be if the universe contained only matter. The leading explanation is that 75 percent of the universe is made up of a mysterious or "dark" energy that has accelerated the expansion of the universe, resulting in these supernovae being further away.
He was first interested in science as a child, when he'd look up at the night sky and wonder what was going on "up there." He also was intrigued with stories about his grandfather, who was an atmospheric scientist. The work of his aunt, a marine biologist, was also inspirational. The homeschooled Bernstein knew he wanted to be an astronomer, and he and his parents saw COD as a good place to begin.
"I benefited greatly from the small class sizes and personal contact with the faculty," he said. "Direct interaction with the faculty without going through teaching assistants was especially important. The fact that faculty engage students in research meant that the faculty members I studied under were very well positioned to guide me toward a career in science."
Bernstein earned his Associate in Science from COD in 1993. While at the College, he was an Honors Scholar and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honors society. He then earned a bachelor's degree in Physics at the University of Chicago, receiving Physics department and college honors. His master's in Physics came from the University of Kentucky, followed by a master's and doctorate in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Michigan.
Tom Carter, professor of Physics at COD, applauds Bernstein's success.
"I've known Joe as both a researcher and a fellow educator, and he's impressive in both fields," Carter said. "I'm only disappointed I wasn't around to have him as a student. I'm sure he asked tough questions that kept his teachers on their toes."
Bernstein enjoys his study of dark energy because of its "ultra-mysterious nature" and its importance to understanding the fate of the universe.
"I want to contribute to the understanding of whether or not the amount of dark energy in the universe varies with time," he said. "Answering this question will elucidate the physical properties of dark energy, thereby allowing scientists to advance the understanding of it."
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2012 College of DuPage