Gowri Kurup

Meet...Gowri Kurup

Fundamental particles and interactions
Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics

We work among extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; get to know some of them by reading these quick-fire interviews.

Name: Gowri Kurup    
Job title: Postdoctoral Research Assistant

What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on two areas at the interface of cosmology and particle physics. Dark matter fills our universe, but we have no idea what it is made of. Most conventional dark matter theories assume that dark matter behaved as 'particles' throughout its history. I am working on models of dark matter that do not fit in this paradigm, such as theories involving conformal symmetry and theories with continuum states. I am also studying Hawking radiation from primordial black holes in the early universe, especially of exotic objects with finite size, and whether they have observable signatures.

Describe a typical day
Every morning, I wake up and do the word puzzles and the crossword published by the New York Times. I am not a morning person at all, and I come to the Beecroft building past 11am most days. The work day starts with going through my emails, posts on our Slack, and a quick scan of papers on arXiv. I get lunch and coffee with friends at Somerville College where I am a non-stipendiary JRF, and return to Beecroft afterwards. Usually, there are meetings in the afternoons and evenings since many of my collaborators are based in the US. Otherwise, I spend my time on research – which usually involves working with Mathematica or Python to compute things numerically, or analytical calculations with pen and paper, or browsing papers. I get takeaway dinner from Somerville at around 6:30 pm (because the servery closes at 7 pm!), and have it in my office. After dinner, when the Beecroft is quiet, I get some more work done until I am too tired or stuck to continue. Then I walk the 45 minutes it takes to get to my apartment on Cowley Road to end the day, where I unwind with music/reading/watching TV/more crosswords.

If you had an entire day at your disposal (not at work), what would be your ideal way to spend it?
I love to travel, and my ideal day would be in a place I have never been to before. Preferably a place of historical significance, or a place surrounded by nature. Another ideal day (but far less expensive this time) is spent at home relaxing, cooking something nice for myself or friends, and playing video games (classic World of Warcraft at the moment).

What is your favourite place in Oxford?
My favourite place in Oxford is the Senior Common Room in Somerville College. I have met many wonderful people at Somerville, and it is a place where I can spend time with them talking about our research, or the new restaurant we should try out, or anything else under the sun really.

Plan B: what would you be if you weren’t doing the job you are currently doing?
If I were to fantasise, I would be running my own little restaurant or cafe somewhere peaceful and quiet. In reality however, the restaurant business is stressful, and I am not that good a chef, so I will probably be in some data science or quantitative research job if I were not a physicist.

What discovery would you like to see in your lifetime?
It would be amazing if we could detect dark matter experimentally, interacting with normal matter. Understanding the microscopic description of dark matter is one of the biggest open problems in fundamental physics, and we really don’t have much of to go on from experiment. That would change if there were to be a signal in one of the terrestrial detectors which is confirmed as dark matter. More broadly, any detection of a new particle would be spectacular, and would revitalise theoretical physics. We have mostly had null results for the past decade or so, and experimental evidence of physics beyond the Standard Model would be a dream come true for any physicist in my field.