NestED Speaker Series Kicks Off with Dark Matter Presentation

Using lottery ticket analogies and paper sheet metaphors, data scientist Louis Penafiel discussed dark matter in his virtual presentation “Probing Dark Matter: From Subatomic Scales to Cosmological Scales” on January 28. Penafiel kicked off the NestED speaker series organized by Anthony Kim ’21 and the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL). The student-run series highlights experts in the fields of science, technology, art, and design. 

“I think my motivation behind NestED and also with this presentation was really about inspiration, about our impact, or our potential impact. I just thought that with this remote setting, with the pandemic, I think a lot of us, including myself, are just losing a bit of sense of purpose because there is this disconnect that happens with the lack of in person interaction, and so what I wanted to do with NestED and with this presentation was really show where our diverse interests can take us,” said Kim.

Dark matter remains an inconclusive subject to scientists, although it comprises almost a fourth of all matter in the universe. In order to help classify this unknown matter, scientists are attempting to discover a “particle periodic table,” according to Penafiel. 

“Most of the universe is actually currently unknown so all these particles that we interact with on a daily basis, I say particles but like tables and stuff, me, Earth, stars, all that stuff actually makes up around 4.65 percent of the mass energy of the universe, and dark matter is like five times that, up to 24 percent,” said Penafiel. 

According to Kim, many students who attended the presentation had little to no prior knowledge about dark matter, including himself. However, Kim believes that Penafiel actively defined complex topics and sought to answer all questions. For example, when explaining mass and light in regards to particle physics, Penafiel used a sheet of paper analogy to clarify his point.

“If I have this flat sheet of paper over here, and if I could think of space-time as this flat sheet of paper, anything with mass essentially makes a dip in this flat space, so anything with mass creates a dip in that space-time fabric, I’ll call it. So if I have something coming from this light source that I show here, light gets bent by this change in space-time,” said Penafiel.

For Kim, inviting Penafiel to speak to the Andover community was appealing due to his extensive experience in the interdisciplinary field of cosmology, particle physics, and data science. According to Kim, the next speakers will continue to display NestED’s emphasis on the interdisciplinary. 

“With our upcoming speakers—we actually have one this week on Friday— I think I really want to continue kind of shining a light upon different areas. Not just sciences, but also art and design that can really encompass all of our interests and the future that we could be leading to,” said Kim.