Shedding Light on Dark Matter: Jamin Rager, ’13

By Elena Naborowski, ’22

Jamin Rager, ’13, knew since high school that he would major in physics and mathematics. At Hillsdale, he hit the ground running with his major classes, finding a great mentor in Professor of Mathematics Thomas Treloar. “I always went to him for advice about my classes and my future,” Jamin shares. One of the most influential classes he took outside of his majors was philosophy with the late Donald Turner, professor of philosophy. “I think, like Kant, philosophy ‘awoke from my dogmatic slumber,’” Jamin says. “I’d never had that exposure to higher thought before, and that class is one of the most memorable times of my college experience.”

Jamin got an early start on research through his connections with the National Science Foundation’s program, Research Experience for Undergraduates. He learned of the program from his professors and peers in Hillsdale’s Physics Department. After his sophomore year, this network helped him find a position at the University of Michigan, studying satellite propulsion with a team of electrical engineers. Their main focus was scaling existing technology from larger satellites to work compatibly with satellites the size of computer chips. “If satellites were smaller, it would be easier to deploy more, but the conditions in space would require that each satellite has a continual source of propulsion,” Jamin says. His team contributed to the research that helped Virgin Galactic launch ten satellites in January 2021. The summer after his junior year, Jamin worked at Purdue University, conducting dark matter research in the field of nuclear-astro particle physics, which helped him decide what he would study for his Ph.D. “I liked dark matter and knew I wanted to study it long term,” he recalls.

Jamin attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina, where he could focus on his interest in dark matter. For his doctoral research project, Jamin worked in a decommissioned gold mine-turned-laboratory one mile underground in South Dakota. “Dark matter research requires minimal background radiation, and the sun gives off too much background radiation to study dark matter on the surface of the earth,” he explains. He completed his Ph.D. in 2019.

“I think Hillsdale prepared me well,” Jamin says. “In terms of my physics and mathematics education, I was ahead of my peers at UNC. I think part of the reason for that is the one-on-one interaction with Hillsdale’s professors. That close interaction, especially in smaller departments like math and physics, really makes a difference in how you learn the material and your passion for it.” Jamin knows that Hillsdale’s core curriculum also helped him at North Carolina: “All the writing I had to do helped me not only during graduate school, but also as I’m writing technical reports at my current job.” Jamin now works as a software engineer for Applied Research Associates, creating programs for simulating nuclear weapon detonation in the continental United States. “Our customer is the Defense Threat Reduction Agency under the Department of Defense,” he says. “It’s very rewarding work!” Jamin’s advice to current students is, when choosing a career path, “don’t just do something you like, because that changes over time. Instead, pick something you think is meaningful and something you believe in, because you’ll find it fulfilling for the rest of your life.”

Elena NaborowskiElena Naborowski, ’22, is a Junior majoring in English with a minor in General Business. She is involved in Kappa Kappa Gamma, Hillsdale Felines and Friends, and hopes to one day work in marketing.

Published in January 2021

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