2021 Incoming Grad Series: Joseph Farah

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Friday, September 17, 2021 8:00 AM

The 2021 Incoming Grad Series continues, featuring backstories and fun facts about 8 students who are part of the entering class at UCSB.

Joseph Farah will be starting his PhD in Physics, with a focus on Astrophysics. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Physics from the University of Massachusetts Boston and has already conducted exciting research on black holes. Read on to learn more about his background, why he chose UCSB, and some surprising fun facts--including examples of his digital artwork! 



Joseph told us he has always been passionate about science. His parents are first-generation immigrants from Syria and Lebanon, and he said that the importance of math and science in his culture and history was impressed upon him from a young age. He said, "I loved learning about the great Arab philosophers and mathematicians and felt a sense of longing when I imagined working in their great libraries of knowledge and thought to make sense of creation."

A pivotal moment occurred while he was in middle school, when the civil war in Syria was ramping up. He told us that the war, which is still ongoing, had intense and sometimes fatal impacts on his immediate and extended family. He said, "I remember, one day in eighth grade, I learned that the angular size of the Andromeda Galaxy on the sky was over six times larger than that of the Moon. If it were just a little brighter, we’d be able to see a massive galaxy hovering in the sky. For some reason, that fact stunned me, and I believed that if everyone could see the Andromeda Galaxy with their eyes, all the wars and suffering and pain would stop, as people would be too dumbfounded by the beauty of the cosmos to hurt each other. While a naïve thought, it shaped my desire to uncover beautiful truths about the universe."

Joseph told us that in high school he participated in every science fair he could, and sought out every possible opportunity to gain research experience. He spent a year in a particle physics lab at Harvard helping build muon detectors for the ATLAS New Small Wheel, and worked for four years with the Event Horizon Telescope research team under Michael Johnson at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics while he completed his Bachelor's in Physics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. As part of this team he helped to take the first picture of a black hole and is currently contributing to the first movie.


Joseph chose UCSB for his PhD for several reasons. He learned about the school from his former supervisor, Michael Johnson, who had received his PhD at UCSB. After spending some time digging into the astronomy and astrophysics program, Joseph was delighted to find a diverse department with a wide variety of interests. He told us that the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB was especially appealing to him, as he hopes to develop a strong theoretical foundation during his PhD work. He was also interested in the work of Andy Howell of the Las Cumbres Observatory. Joseph added, "The beautiful campus and the prospect of spending five years nerding out in Santa Barbara didn’t hurt one bit."  



Joseph will focus his PhD research on astrophysics. He told us he is broadly interested in helping to establish better theoretical foundations for astrophysical processes for the specific purpose of facilitating more precise and informative measurements. He particularly enjoys projects that use novel or recent theories to derive observational signatures, and then look for those signatures in data using rigorous modeling. At UCSB, he hopes to study supernova and dark energy, with the goal of helping to bring scale to our understanding of the universe.



As an undergrad, Joseph helped produce the first image of a black hole

He is a digital artist, and uses the free and open-source 3D modeling and rendering software Blender. He describes his art as "photorealistic surrealism," and says it explores the balance between pleasing the part of your brain that tries to guess if an image is fake and the part that tries to work out the underlying story of a picture. Some examples of his artwork include: Creation, Maxwell’s Magnificent Mushroom Marketplace, Grandpa’s Secret Reading Place, and Lights in the Wilderness (reprise). Click here to see a sneak peek of his newest project. He is also the Chief Technical Officer and co-President of Astraveo, a small art company that takes original high-resolution astrophotos and uses them to produce extra-large wall art and other merchandise. 

Joseph is also a competitive drag racer and clocks a 12.2-second quarter-mile at 117 mph in his manual C7 Stingray. He raced for three years at the New England Dragway in New Hampshire and hopes to continue improving in California. He told us he often has critical research epiphanies at the track, where he feels most in touch with physics and the mechanical forces of the universe. Click here to see a video from one of his recent races. Here’s an interior perspective where Joseph shows off his UCSB sweatshirt.

Welcome, Joseph!

Be sure to subscribe to the GradPost and check back each day until the start of classes for the continuation of our Incoming Grad Series.