Where They’re Headed David Zegeye ’19

The physics and astronomy double major is continuing his academic journey as he heads to the University of Chicago to pursue a Ph.D.

Though David Zegeye ’19 will be looking up at the same night sky in Chicago as he did in Philadelphia, he’ll soon be able to see the cosmos in a whole new light. Following his graduation, the physics and astronomy double major has relocated to the University of Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Zegeye is studying the early history of the universe through an examination of the phenomenon known as the Cosmic Microwave Background. 

“Usually this entails lots of computer coding to probe the mysteries contained in these images, while listening to my favorite podcast, Bodega Boys,” he said. “Often this means I get to imagine new ways of understanding how the universe’s origins are related to our present existence.”

Zegeye’s postgraduate pursuits grew naturally out of the celestial knowledge he cultivated while at Haverford. His road to success, however, wasn’t always so clear-cut.

“Even though thousands of Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy are awarded every year, less than 4% of them are awarded to Black folks,” he said. “These weren’t challenges I expected to encounter when wanting to study the universe.”

The recent graduate overcame these hurdles to land himself in the prestigious university’s astrophysics program. He lists the support of his advisors, Assistant Professor Daniel Grin and former faculty member Desika Narayanan, as invaluable to his success. 

“Professors Grin and Narayanan have been active in nurturing my growth and have advocated for my abilities,” he said. “From being able to perform research as an undergraduate, presenting at conferences, to even giving me life advice and listening to my concerns. I am where I am right now because they believed in me.”

As he garners his own wealth of knowledge in astrophysics, Zegeye plans to be a guiding force for students in a similar position to his. He feels driven to achieve both of these goals by his own personal and familial background.

“My family have been Ethiopian and Eritrean farmers for generations and used the stars to know what time of the year to plant and harvest their crops,” he said. “From this connection between the sky and the earth, my ancestors were able to tell stories to understand their place in the universe. In a sense, astronomy has always been in my family’s blood.”

Inspired the personal history that astronomy holds for him, Zegeye intends to incorporate himself with a burgeoning movement in the city to render the field of study more inclusive and accessible.

“Astronomers in the Chicago-area hope to build a planetarium focused around astronomy practiced in Africa, Asia, and the Americas,” he said. “I hope to curate the section on astronomy in East Africa, and use that connection to help other Africans who want to study astronomy.”

“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series chronicling the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.