Community Profile: Adam Coogan


Name: Adam Coogan


Current position: Postdoctoral researcher


Affiliation: GRAPPA, University of Amsterdam


Field of research: The nature of dark matter using astrophysical data. I work on improving theoretical predictions and developing new data analysis techniques.



What is your career trajectory to date? I did my undergraduate degree at Brown University from 2008 to 2012, my PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 2012 to 2018, and since then have been a postdoctoral researcher at GRAPPA, part of the University of Amsterdam.


What are the most exciting open questions in your research area? What is the fundamental nature of dark matter?


What do you like and dislike about being a scientist? Likes: developing research questions, figuring out how to solve technical problems to generate impactful results, wrangling code, and working with creative, sharp and kind people at all levels from students to faculty. Having a flexible schedule and getting to travel are also big perks. Dislikes: the precarity of my career. Worrying about finding a permanent position, having little control over where I live, dealing with the feeling that I need to work all the time, and the lower pay relative to industry.


Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful? I'm most proud of my ability to break problems down into pieces and solve them with math and programming. I think I'm good at writing software.


In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about? Two come to mind: - The first observation of gravitational waves. It felt like such a big deal to have a new way to probe the universe. - Getting first results for a project last fall that uses machine learning methods to analyze strong gravitational lensing images to search for dark matter. I'm very excited about the potential of this method, and it felt great to see some payoff after ~1.5 years of work with my collaborators.


What new skills would you like to learn in the next year? I want to learn how to analyze Hubble Space Telescope and LIGO/VIRGO data. I also would like to improve as a mentor!


What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to? Since I work on strong lensing, I'm eagerly awaiting Euclid, Vera Rubin Observatory and the Extremely Large Telescope, all of which will come online in the next few years. These will increase the number of galaxy-galaxy strong lensing systems we know about from O(100) to O(10^5)! Further down the line, I'm looking forward to LISA, and thinking about what it can do for dark matter searches as well as the data analysis difficulties.


What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now? I think the hardest thing about working on dark matter is that we have an enormous range of models to study, and it's difficult to narrow the scope without observational hints about where to focus.


What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe? Astroparticle physics and cosmology have a lot of niches, and I think it's useful to have EuCAPT as a channel for improving communication between them. I'm optimistic it will help with find collaborators and keep track of interesting developments in adjacent subfields.


What’s your favorite food? So hard to choose! Pizza napoletana with mozzarella di bufala is one of the top, for sure. I also love burritos (especially from Taqueria Santa Cruz II!), ramen and kimchi.

How do you like to relax after a hard day of work? Cooking some new tasty dish -- I've been making lots of Korean food over the past year. Baking and watching Netflix with my partner. I also like to run, read, draw and work on learning languages.


Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share? I've been obsessed with rock climbing since the beginning of my PhD, and used to go on climbing and camping trips quite often when I lived in California. I'm looking forward to being able to climb again once the pandemic gets under control.


If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing? I would find a way to apply my technical problem-solving skills to help with some of the big problems facing the world, like climate change, inequality or improving health care. I'd like to get a van so I could travel around exploring the outdoors while working remotely for part of the year. Further down the line I could see opening a little restaurant.


What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years? I really hope we figure out what dark matter is.