Gabriel Casabona almost double majored in anthropology and religious studies as an undergraduate. He was intrigued by how religious leaders and philosophers tried to explain their observations of the universe.
“When they looked in the sky, they were trying to think about whether some things had moved. St. Thomas Aquinas was very interested in how all things occurred, whether because something else pushed it or because of some higher being. I was fascinated with the study of the whole universe and how it began,” Casabona said.
After taking some physics courses to further his understanding, Casabona found his major. While the math was challenging, the switch to physics proved to be a good move.
As he prepares to graduate from UMass Dartmouth with a master of science degree in physics, Casabona has been named one of just 25 recipients of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellowship.
The fellowship provides an annual stipend, paid tuition and fees at any PhD-granting institution in the U.S., an annual academic allowance for professional development and computer equipment, and a 12-week practicum at a DOE national laboratory.
Casabona has been accepted to six PhD programs and chose Northwestern University in Illinois. He hopes to complete his doctorate in four years, studying neutron star mergers.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I was so surprised. It’s nice to be coveted by a program. Physics is not the easiest, but it’s fun.”
His advisor, Dr. Robert Fisher, associate professor of physics, says Casabona’s work ethic will serve him well in his future career.
"The legendary mathematics instructor Jamie Escalante once spoke of the importance of ganas, the motivation to learn,” Fisher said. “From the day Gabriel arrived on campus, it was clear to the faculty who worked with him, and to the students who learned from him, that he had the ganas in abundance. His tremendous drive and work ethic have propelled him forward and led to this richly-deserved national recognition."
Presented research at conferences throughout Europe and the U.S.
Casabona’s research interest lies in computational astrophysics. During his two years at UMass Dartmouth, he has traveled the globe, participating in conferences and workshops as part of his thesis advancing the state-of-the-art in our scientific understanding of stellar explosions.
Last April, he presented a talk at the American Physical Society Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, titled “Carbon Detonation Initiation in Turbulent Electron-Degenerate Matter.” This research focused on how turbulence inside this important class of stars gives rise to the explosion which will ultimately consume it.
A peer-reviewed paper on this topic, authored with Fisher and Pritom Mozumdar ’18 (MS/Physics), will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
In May 2018, Casabona attended a summer school at Michigan State University on merging neutron stars and multi-messenger astronomy at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.
He also traveled to the Czech Republic last summer to participate in the International High Performance Computing Summer School. He was selected as one of only 80 graduate students from four continents and 20 nations to participate in this workshop focused on the newest developments in supercomputing.
As the 2018 academic year began, Casabona continued to travel. In September, he visited the University of the Hull in the United Kingdom to participate in the “Software Tools for Simulation in Nuclear Astrophysics” workshop. He also made presentations in Boston, Seattle, and at Stanford University this year.
“Travelling to these workshops and conferences has allowed me to strengthen my knowledge in computation and physics,” Casabona said. “Sharing my work and learning from top scientists in different fields has broadened my insight on physics. The most surprising aspect is that I have learned more about my own research by being asked questions from experts in subfields."
Plans a career in research and teaching
Casabona plans a career in research and hopes to return to academia to teach and mentor students. He enjoyed teaching introductory physics classes and has tutored in the STEM Learning Lab and the ARC Learning Center.
“It’s an interesting experience to teach what I’m most passionate about to such a diverse group of students,” he said.
UMass Dartmouth’s small Physics Department enabled Casabona to build close connections with his professors. He worked as a research assistant with Fisher to analyze the role of turbulence in the detonation of carbon in electron-degenerate matter
He credits his advisor for building his research and presentation skills.
“Dr. Fisher is the perfect balance of pushing me to be better and supporting me and making sure I was taken care of properly,” Casabona said. “All the faculty are very supportive. They put a strong emphasis on students’ learning and the skills they need after graduation.”
Dr. Robert Fisher, associate professor of physics, contributed to this article.