Senior Elliott Williams tackles the subject of dark matter


Gibson the Epic

Williams observed the Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565) during one of his long observing nights. When looking for the galaxies in the sky, Williams says “it’s just about finding the galaxy based on its coordinates in the sky and tracking it and taking pictures.”

Senior Elliott Williams chose a rather hefty topic to write about for his International Baccalaureate Extended Essay, dark matter.

Williams says that in the astrophysics world, dark matter is seen as ambiguous, like a mystery.

As Williams explains it, “dark matter is a type of matter that doesn’t interact with any forces except for gravity. It doesn’t react with photons which means we can’t see it, we can only see it through its gravitational effects on other stuff, like galaxies.”

Williams says that about 85 percent of matter in our universe is “unexplained,” and that dark matter may be the answer. He says the purpose of dark matter is to keep the galaxies from dissipating and the stars from flying off of the galaxies.

The point of Williams’ research was to identify varying galaxies in which dark matter is prominent, and to determine if there is any connection.

“The objective of my research is to see if I can find a correlation to galaxies, like the ages and the types of galaxies, then we can learn more about how dark matter is formed and how dark matter evolves within the galaxies,” Williams said.

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The Sombrero Galaxy (NGC 4594)

Williams took his essay to the next level by spending roughly 150 hours researching and writing his paper. He also observed seven different galaxies over two nights at the Bradley Observatory on the Agnes Scott campus.

“The first night I went [to the observatory] around 10 p.m. and left at 4 a.m.” Williams said.  “The second night I went in around nine p.m. and left at 5 a.m. So, I had some pretty long nights.”

Williams spent so much time on his research that he has decided to get his essay published. He says that he could leave his essay as it is and get it published in a high school journal, or he could make the writing more concise and have it published in a higher level journal.

“At the end I’m just really proud of what I’ve made and I think that the quality of the work is good enough that I can be published. Having a paper published anywhere at 17 is incredible,” Williams said.


Photos courtesy of Elliott Williams