Adam Tropper ’21 was awarded a prestigious fellowship through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). The NSF GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees in the United States. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution. Tropper says the award will allow him to continue his studies at Harvard University where he will enter the Physics Ph.D. program in the Fall with significantly lighter teaching requirements.
Tropper intends to use the funding to do research in string cosmology, “I plan to study the cosmology of the very, very early universe, moments after the Big Bang within the framework of string theory.” According to Tropper, “this [string theory perspective] is relevant because in those early moments, there were very high energy processes going on that are well beyond what we could hope to study with something like the Large Hadron Collider. To calculate cosmological observables, we need a theory that can reasonably describe these high energies; the leading candidate is string theory.”
Tropper believes the education he received as an undergraduate at Brown has prepared him well for graduate studies because it allowed him to do serious research as an undergraduate. “I think Brown’s open curriculum really served me well, and the reason for this is it's often difficult to do research in theoretical physics without specific course prerequisites,” he continues, “for example, one needs quantum mechanics to do pretty much anything in particle physics. Brown’s open curriculum and flexibility allowed me to take those courses ahead of schedule and construct my curricular trajectory to fit my research interests.”
He also credits the level of instruction and attention he was able to receive from professors at Brown, “I really have Brown and the wonderful professors, to thank for setting me up on this trajectory.” He particularly praised Professors JiJi Fan and Marcus Spradlin for guiding his undergraduate education and research interests. “I think Brown really fostered an environment where I could succeed, both in coursework and research. The faculty here were tremendously invested in my development and have played a pivotal role in my recent accomplishments.”
Tropper also says Brown helped instill the sense of “grit” necessary for success in a difficult research field. “While doing research you’ll find yourself getting stalled out; you’ll pursue a different approach to tackling a challenging problem every day for weeks on end, and, ultimately, they might all fail.” Tropper says it can be “difficult on your psyche” to spend so much time researching something without positive results to show for it. “But of course you learn something from these failed attempts. I think that's where the importance of grit really lies.”