Particle Physics Comes to BYU with Dr. Chris Verhaaren

Particle physics represents a growing field of exciting new information and knowledge. BYU students have long awaited the opportunity to study and research particle physics and Fall 2022, the wait was over when Dr. Chris Verhaaren was hired as a new professor. He brings his expertise in theoretical particle physics, which he describes as “an understanding of the structure of nature at the smallest scales,” and hopes to provide students with tools to effectively study particle physics. 

Dr. Verhaaren was an undergraduate at BYU where he initially majored in mathematics, but physics captivated him, so he double majored in mathematics and physics. He began research in Dr. David Allred’s lab but soon found himself drawn to theoretical physics. His interest in the unification of relativity and quantum mechanics led him to work with Dr. Eric Hirschman—studying general relativity. Dr. Verhaaren received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and completed postdocs at both UC-Davis and UC-Irvine, studying the electroweak hierarchy problem, models of dark matter, and solitons. 

As a graduate student, Dr. Verhaaren wondered when his studies and faith would come into conflict. No such crisis came, and this has led him to believe that the perceived conflicts between science and religion arise from people misunderstanding one another. He wants to help overcome anyone struggling with these perceived conflicts. 

Dr. Verhaaren’s current research focuses on the Higgs boson, nontopological solitons called Q-balls, magnetic monopoles, and other topics related to dark matter. In addition, he synergizes with other faculty by connecting their research to particle physics and the standard model. He recently published a review on the certain solutions to the Higgs naturalness problem for the particle physics community planning exercise. In the future, he plans to develop BYU’s quantum field theory course to be more beneficial for those interested in condensed matter applications. He was recently awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Uncovering Physics Beyond the Standard Model.”

Dr. Verhaaren is motivated by the desire to provide students with something he didn’t have while he was here: a professor who can help them understand particle physics and the structure of nature on its smallest scales. As a husband and father, Dr. Verhaaren enjoys spending time with his family. He endures biking to work for his health and enjoys reading whatever books he can make time for. 

Student authors: Luke Cvetko, Michael Vaka, and Zack Windham

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