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In Search of the Beautiful and Unexpected

Abhyuday Sharda Wins JLab Fellowship

December 4, 2023

Abhyuday Sharda

Abhyuday Sharda

Abhyuday Sharda likes an open question. For him, that's where the real beauty of science lies. His search for answers will be supported this academic year with a new graduate fellowship from the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, commonly known as JLab.

Sharda is a graduate student who's been working with Professor Nadia Fomin since 2022.

"What I am working on in JLab is studying the structure of the atomic nucleus," he explained. "The nucleus is more than 99 percent of the visible universe by mass but it is not completely understood. My research is an attempt to understand how protons and neutrons (and their underlying quark distributions) change when inside the nucleus as compared to a free proton or a neutron. We do this by scattering energetic electrons off of nuclei. The way they scatter allows us to infer information about the nucleus."

With his experimental component complete, Sharda said he's now analyzing data, the results of which he said are anticipated by the hadronic physics community in general. The JLab graduate fellowship (one of nine granted this year) will support this work, which Fomin pointed out has been rated as high-priority and high-impact by JLab's Program Advisory Committee.

Going Beyond the Familiar

Sharda's hometown is Delhi, India, and he traveled across the globe to UT to earn a master's degree in physics. He said he had such a positive grad school experience he decided to stay on for a PhD. Nuclear physics in particular speaks to his wide-open view of science, and the world in general.

"What I find interesting about it is that the atomic nucleus can be called the building block of the matter in the universe, yet we don't completely understand it," he said. "Any open question in physics often leads to beautiful and unexpected discoveries."

This willingness to embrace the unknown underlies Sharda's personal philosophy about what science can achieve, summed up nicely by one of his favorite quotes (from Physicist Lisa Randall):

"In the history of physics, every time we've looked beyond the scales and energies we were familiar with, we've found things that we wouldn't have thought were there. You look inside the atom and eventually you discover quarks. Who would have thought that? It's hubris to think that the way we see things is everything there is."

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