For Cora Dvorkin, life is all about asking the right questions.
How can teaching inspire and excite students? Why are some identities underrepresented in fields of science? Though Dvorkin is constantly asking questions across a variety of areas, the majority of her questions are large, daunting inquiries about the universe.
“It is not only important to understand what our place in the universe is, but it’s also fascinating,” Dvorkin said. “The universe is like a detective puzzle. You have a limited amount of data and you have a vast array of questions to solve. I am passionate about trying to develop methods to extract information from the data, in order to provide answers to some of these deep questions.”
As a theoretical cosmologist and Associate Professor of Physics, Dvorkin specifically tackles unknowns about the physics of the early universe, the particle nature of dark matter, as well as more hands-on analysis of dark matter. In her lab, Dvorkin uses observations that come from the Cosmic Microwave Background – the afterglow that comes from the big bang – as well as information about the distribution of galaxies and gravitational lensing in order to answer these questions. Recently, she started tackling these questions with new machine learning techniques, and she is currently the Harvard representative at the new NSF Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions (IAIFI) in Cambridge, MA.
“The a-ha moments – those moments when a question is answered or a discovery is made – are very few in comparison to the time spent researching,” Dvorkin said. “Yet, the small steps in between are exciting. In the process of answering a larger question, I learn and understand so many new things.”
Dvorkin grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina and received her Bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Buenos Aires. After moving to the United States, Dvorkin earned her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, conducted postdoctoral research at both the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and at Harvard University, and acted as a NASA-funded Hubble Fellow and an Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC) Fellow. While completing her studies, Dvorkin was constantly motivated by her passion for cosmology – a passion that she found early in her childhood through reading books. Dvorkin now uses many of these books to teach her freshman seminar, “The Universe: Its Origin, Evolution, and Major Puzzles.”
“I am always trying to transmit to students why cosmology is exciting,” Dvorkin said. “When I help a student understand something new, or when I have made a student excited about the topic, I am reminded why I love teaching. Those instances are invaluable, when I can see the enthusiasm in the faces of these students.”
Outside of her teaching and research, Dvorkin often finds herself reading books, painting, and watching old films. Though cosmology is her greatest passion, she is also extremely dedicated to supporting underrepresented minorities and women in science. As an informal Ambassador of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), Dvorkin bridges connections between this community, women in science, and the Latin American community of which she is a part.
“For younger generations of underrepresented minorities, there are few role models to look up to in physics and science. I hope to inspire them, to be a role model for them,” Dvorkin said. “Sometimes, there are underrepresented minorities who I don’t represent, but I hope to also change and challenge this situation for them. I want to build a community for them, one in which they are welcome and inspired.”
Cora Dvorkin is constantly striving to be a better instructor, researcher, advocate, and interrogator of the world and universe around her. In the process of asking questions both large and small, Dvorkin remains inspired by her passions. She hopes her students will find similar inspiration.
“Often, students worry that they look different or think differently from their peers in a specific concentration or passion. They worry that they are not like the average person in their field. This doesn’t matter. The work and energy one puts in is what matters.”
Cora Dvorkin teaches a freshman seminar and several courses in the department of Physics, including “The Universe: Its Origin, Evolution, and Major Puzzles,” “Cosmology,” “Introductory Electromagnetism and Statistical Physics,” and “Wave Phenomena,” which can be viewed in the Harvard course directory.