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Daniel Berke

After several centuries in development, our current theories of physics have proven remarkably successful at predicting and explaining a truly astounding number of physical phenomena on scales ranging from sub-atomic to cosmological scales. However, all our theories currently rely on a number of dimensionless numerical constants whose value cannot be predicted within those theories; they can only be measured externally. It is generally taken for granted that these values are the same at all times and places, but the question of whether these constants may actually vary at some scale has remained open for nearly a century since it was first raised. On top of that, multiple recent theories attempting to extend the Standard Model of physics allow for or even predict changes in these constants, making measuring them an important test of the Standard Model.

My Ph.D. will focus on one particular constant: the fine structure constant, commonly denoted by alpha. This constant controls multiple aspects of electromagnetism, and any potential variations should leave a unique fingerprint in the spectra of various elements. Recent advances in instrument science have resulted in new, more powerful spectrometers with which any possible variations can be measured or constrained at an unprecedented level, and in addition I'll also be working on improved methods for combining spectra from multiple instruments to achieve even higher levels of accuracy and precision.

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