Physics is the language of how everything works, says Fred Dauphin. Understanding that language is what drew him toward the subject — particularly when it comes to the things we don’t yet know.
Dauphin has a gravitational pull towards the mysteries of astrophysics. He’s fascinated by understanding the complexities of space through purely observational methods. There’s a satisfying challenge, he says, that comes from studying objects that push physics to its bounds, like neutron stars and black holes, without being able to touch or experiment on them.
Dauphin weaved this passion for discovering the unknown throughout his undergraduate years. He conducted research on protostars in molecular clouds during a Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Rochester and interned at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where his work helping to develop new classification methods for super novae was submitted to the American Astronomical Society journals for publication.
Within the Department of Physics, Dauphin pushed himself out of his comfort zone, taking courses in quantum physics and conducting research in biological physics. This breadth of study helped him foster his curiosity and develop what he calls physical intuition.
“The physics program teaches you how to think differently and work more efficiently,” said Dauphin. Many of his professors pushed their pupils to explain how something works using concepts purely from physics. “A lot of our homework problems are mathematical, but the more interesting problems asked us ‘why should something work this way?’ or ‘why does this make sense?’,” Dauphin explained. “It teaches you to think like a physicist and use all the tools you’ve learned over the years to tackle the problem.”
Dauphin, who graduated in May, will carry this intuition into his professional career as a science support analyst at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the science operations center for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope.
Outside of academics, Dauphin devoted himself to the Carnegie Mellon University community as a leader, peer, athlete and role model. He was a record-breaking jumper and captain on the track and field team; a brother and president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE); an orientation counselor and leader; and a representative for Plaidvocates, CMU’s student-athlete peer advocacy program.
“Those organizations are what made CMU home for me on top of the academics,” said Dauphin. And they helped him become the person he is today.
SAE taught him the meaning of leadership and service. As president, Dauphin had the honor of planning the fraternity’s 100th anniversary, culminating in a large alumni and family gathering. He also helped improve the fraternity’s communication with housing services and supported the executive board in reaching their recruitment, financial and development goals.
One of his favorite memories was organizing SAE’s Donut Dash, a foodie- and family-friendly race, to raise funds for the Mario Lemieux Foundation’s Austin’s Playrooms Initiative, which raised over $80,000 in 2019.
“Dig deep, be brave and have those conversations.”
~ Fred Dauphin
“It’s one of the highest honors you can receive,” said Sam Waltemeyer, assistant director of Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement and Greek housefellow, who nominated Dauphin. Annually, the award recognizes 8-10 young men from across all fraternities nationwide who embody the ideals of scholarship, leadership and service to others.
“I have come to know Fred as a humble, down-to-earth leader in the lab, on the track field and within the chapter, making him an ideal nominee for this distinguished award,” said Waltemeyer.
Dauphin’s time as a Plaidvocate also left a large mark on his life.
Plaidvocates lead by example. They serve as advocates, mentors and confidantes for all student-athletes. One of the most important duties is to foster a culture of healthy behaviors among students. Throughout the year, Plaidvocates lead educational, constructive conversations on stress and time management, nutrition, alcohol, drug use, harassment and sexual assault.
“Plaidvocates taught me what it means to be a dependable and accountable teammate and how to be there for someone when they need help,” Dauphin said.
The position also helped him learn how to bridge tough conversations — something he thinks other areas of life at CMU could benefit from.
A few weeks after Dauphin graduated (which took place from his home in Boston after the coronavirus pandemic forced Dauphin to finish his senior year remotely), racial justice protests sprang up in over 140 cities nationwide after the death of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Calls against systemic racism and injustice prompted responses from businesses, elected officials and colleges and universities condemning these acts, pledging to support social justice organizations and announcing practices and policies to fight racism.
In response to these events, Glen de Vries Dean Rebecca Doerge began by approaching alumni — including Dauphin — faculty and staff to understand their personal experiences at Carnegie Mellon and listen to where the Mellon College of Science needed to improve its own actions.
The first outcome of these talks was a series of dialogues on anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion. “I was excited to talk about my experience, what it’s like being a Black student at CMU, and to figure out how people could get more engaged with these issues,” Dauphin said.
Another important step is improving representation. “In a lot of my classes, I was the only or one of a couple Black people,” said Dauphin. Having more minority and Black students, staff and faculty at the university can help not only change the dialogue at the university but also create a more inclusive environment, he added.
Dauphin also believes that it’s time to normalize having better conversations about anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We can’t progress forward if people are scared of talking about it,” he said, a lesson he learned during his monthly Plaidvocate trainings. While it’s not an easy task, Dauphin saw how the more you engage people in tough topics, the more they will understand it at a deeper level.
So, to that he says: “Dig deep, be brave and have those conversations.”
■ Emily Payne