What They Learned: Kevin Kaufman ’21

The physics major and economics minor used his thesis to study the properties of millisecond pulsars and their emission of Giant Pulses.

Even after centuries of extensive research, much of outer space is still unknown. Kevin Kaufman used his thesis to study the properties of millisecond pulsars, or small collapsed stars that spin hundreds of times per second, and their emission of Giant Pulses, or short bursts of large amounts of energy. The pulsar Kaufman studied (PSR B1937+21) has Giant Pulses that equate to the hottest brightness temperature ever recorded. The physics major investigated what these bursts of energy are, where they happen, and why they happen in his thesis, “Giant Pulses From PSR B1937+21 and Their Polarization.”

“I always thought [pulsars] were interesting due to their odd nature of spinning at a constant spin and sending a signal of radio emission once or twice per spin, making them the most perfect clocks in our universe,” he said. “The particular pulsar I studied was so interesting because it spins hundreds of times per second and during some of these spins it releases a short burst which equates to the brightest temperature ever recorded. This was so odd to me that I wanted to learn more about the geometry of this pulsar, how it works, and what causes these bursts.”

In his research, Kaufman learned a lot about pulsar structure and magnetic wave emission. He also learned the keys to completing a long-term project: good time management and the ability to ask for help. 

“It was important to always try things on my own first and block out very specific times in my week for doing so, but was equally if not more important to understand when I was stuck and ask for help,” said Kaufman. “At times I dwelled on problems on my own and it cost me loads of time but by the end I had a pretty good handle of it.”

Kaufman was advised by Visiting Assistant Professor Natalia Lewandowska, who provided him with a lot of support. 

“In terms of developing my topic, she provided me with a ton of background literature and gathered the main data that I used for my research and data analysis,” he said. “She provided me with a ton of help when it came to coding in Python and other computer languages by providing sample scripts and walking me through them. She also helped me by providing me with articles to compare my analysis with and helped me interpret many of my results through our weekly meetings.”

What are the implications for your thesis research?
The implications of my work are very niche. They involve confirming past work done on B1937+21, such as the best model to describe the pulsar, and also add to the limited knowledge we have on the origins of Giant Pulses. Specifically, my work illustrates that these Giant Pulses are not originating from the same place as the regular emission and that a hybrid model would best describe B1937+21.

What are your plans for the future?
I am pursuing a master’s in systems engineering at Penn next year, and then will be working full time at Boston Consulting Group in their Philadelphia office afterwards. My thesis will certainly help me in my job as management consultants often have cases that are 8-10 weeks long. These are long projects that we have to break down into small steps to complete a larger overarching goal, similar to skills I’ve acquired through my thesis. Due to the coding and data manipulation done in my thesis, my experience will also come in handy for my courses at Penn next year.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates