Community profile: Margot Brouwer

Name: Margot Brouwer

Current position: Postdoc

Affiliation: University of Groningen and Amsterdam

What is your field of research?

Observational cosmology, dark matter, weak gravitational lensing.

What is your career trajectory to date?

In 2013 I was the first to finish the GRAPPA master (Gravitation and AstroParticle Physics Amsterdam) at the University of Amsterdam. From 2013 to 2017 I held a PhD position at the Leiden Observatory, studying dark matter using weak gravitational lensing. My most recent appointment is a postdoc at the Universities of Groningen and Amsterdam.

What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?

The most interesting open question in my research area is: what is the nature of dark matter? If it is a particle: which particle is it, and can we ever detect it apart from its gravitational interaction? If it is not a particle: is there a way we can improve our understanding of spacetime and gravity, in such a way that it solves the dark matter problem? This is the question I've been working on for most of my career.

What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?

I love being surrounded by colleagues who are fascinated by understanding the Universe, who give there lives to answer the big questions. I dislike the harsh competition between me and my colleagues that is needed to stay in the game.

Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?

My most useful skill is my ability to absorb a lot of complicated information, and to then structure it into a simple and understandable story. This has helped me in explaining my research to colleagues, students, interested lay-people, friend and family; be it in (popular) science presentations or articles, or even in conversations at parties.

In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?

In my career so far, I was most excited when I started working with Erik Verlinde on his idea of Emergent Gravity. The notion that gravity might not be a fundamental force, but one that emerges from the collective behaviour of the "atoms" of spacetime, fascinates me.

What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?

In the next year I would love to perfect my popular science writing skills to a professional level, in order to write my first popular science book. I'm also interested in increasing my knowledge on philosophy of science, which will be a big topic in it.

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?

As an observational cosmologist, I'm very excited about the launch and operation of the Euclid space telescope within the next few years. The amount of data that this telescope will collect, the size and depth of its survey area, and the accuracy of its images, will revolutionize our current view of the cosmos. I hope that it will be a game-changer for observational cosmology, and that it will go a long way in answering our questions about the evolution of the cosmos and the nature of dark energy and dark matter.

What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?

In the study of dark matter using weak gravitational lensing, we are currently at a point where we have more accurate measurements of the distribution of dark matter in the Universe than we have of normal matter, such as the diffuse gas around galaxies. A large amount of the baryonic matter in the Universe is "missing". So strangely, in order to figure out the nature of dark matter (is it a particle, or should we change the way we think about gravity?), we should first get a better grip on the distribution of normal matter!

What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?

Boosting collaboration between researchers from different fields. I think that, for example, the study of dark matter would improve greatly if theoretical physicists, observational cosmologists and experimental particle physicists work together very closely: sitting around the same table (or Zoom call), even writing papers together. Only in this way we can hope to figure out the nature of dark matter.

What’s your favorite food?

I love pancakes and pizza. Also, even as a vegetarian I still love the taste of meat (especially the Dutch "kroket"!), but not the suffering of animals and our planet. I hope that, in the future, fake meat products will improve in quality and price, until it becomes easier, tastier and cheaper for everyone to buy fake meat than real :).

Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?

I love long-distance hiking, i.e. walking through mountain wilderness for weeks on end while camping in the wild. I often do this while on holiday with my husband. I also love to read books, especially about philosophy. My favourite philosopher is Baruch Spinoza.

If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?

If I were not a scientist I would probably be a science journalist, or maybe a philosopher of science (instead of an observational researcher). I can't really imagine a life where I wouldn't have anything to do with science!

What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?

I hope that, within the next 50 years, we will know the nature of dark matter. I would perhaps be even more excited if we would find evidence of a mechanism behind the (eternal) inflation postulated by Alan Guth and Andrei Linde, which would confirm the likely existence of a Multiverse.