Katherine M. Benson, an assistant professor of physics at Emory University, works at the interface of particle theory and cosmology. She seeks to answer questions such as: How does our understanding of the fundamental forces of nature and the dynamics governing their symmetries and relative strengths affect the early history of our then hot, expanding universe? How does our universe’s evolution provide a rationale for the spectrum of forces we see today, and leave remnants of the historic behavior of those forces when they were unified?
As a Radcliffe fellow, Benson will investigate one aspect of this question of how M theory, an intrinsically eleven-dimensional understanding of forces, can lead to our known forces in four-dimensional space-time. She will study a class of “braneworld” models, whereby higher-dimensional field theories develop defects, confining matter to lower-dimensional defect cores. By tracking the gravity and matter interactions induced in the defect core, Benson will examine how a history of dimensional reduction illuminates central issues in particle theory and cosmology: why forces differ widely in strength, and how vacuum energy now dominates our universe. Braneworld theories are acclaimed for suggesting heuristic explanations for these mysteries; Benson hopes to develop such explanations quantitatively.
Benson received her BS in physics from Duke University and her AM and PhD in physics from Harvard University. She held postdoctoral fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and as a president’s postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at San Diego.