To the untrained eye, astrophysics and the world of finance appear to have little in common. But Réjean Dupuis has found a home in both over the course of his career.
Dupuis, who grew up in Notre Dame, NB, is currently a quantitative strategist in London, U.K. for a U.S.-based investment bank. But just a few years ago, he was working in a lab instead of an office, and instead of data based on known elements, he was combing through data looking for evidence of something no one was sure existed.
Dupuis had been researching gravitational waves since his time at Mount Allison, even making it the topic of his senior thesis.
He went on to complete his PhD at the University of Glasgow, then was a postdoctoral research fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he continued his work on gravitational wave data analysis and computational astrophysics as part of an international team, a team that earlier this year was able to prove that gravitational waves exist after seeing two black holes collide.
“This is something Einstein predicted 100 years ago,” he says. “People have been working on this for decades, but it has all come to fruition in the past couple of years.”
Although Dupuis is no longer working on the project, he is proud that his work contributed to the discovery.
“This is one of the biggest scientific discoveries in physics in the past century,” he says. “Having been part of the collaboration for so long, I don’t really feel I missed out having left before the detection was made. I’m proud that I was a small part of the research.
“We will get to study black holes and other things we have never been able to observe. It’s opening up a new window on the universe and we are likely to find things we don’t expect to see. That is what is exciting — we are going to learn some new science.”
As exciting as the work was and is, after about 10 years in the field, Dupuis wanted to apply his skills in a new way.
“A lot of the skills for quantitative finance are the same,” he says. “And I liked the idea of doing things that are more relevant to the day-to-day experience.”
So Dupuis traded in his lab coat and went back to school at University of California, Berkeley for a Master’s degree in financial engineering.
“Quantitative strategy is a very broad term within finance and my role has changed over the years, but very broadly I try to understand the dynamics of the global financial market, forecasting and trying to develop trading strategies,” he says.
Although the data he is working with is very different, to Dupuis, the work is very similar to his research on gravitational waves: trying to find nearly undetectable patterns in reams of data.
“It is about digging signals out of noise, trying to find the needle in the haystack,” he says, skills he first developed while at Mount Allison and honed during his third year, during an exchange at New Mexico State University, and the following summer at an undergraduate research program at the California Institute of Technology.
“My first experience doing research, which is the backbone of what I’ve been doing in astrophysics and finance, that started as a summer research experience with (Mount Allison physics professor) Dr. Bob Hawkes (’72),” he says. “Without that, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the summer position I had at Cal Tech… And the exchange program was pivotal in introducing me to U.S. universities and U.S. experiences.”
When the groundbreaking gravitational waves discovery was announced in February, Dupuis got a fair amount of attention from Canadian media, particularly in his home province. Though he normally likes to stay out of the spotlight, he felt it was important to give back in whatever way he could.
“Pure research is all funded by the public, so it is quite important for scientists to do public outreach. Most of my studies were sponsored by government scholarships, including at Glasgow, where I had an NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) scholarship,” he says. “To any extent that this can excite or give hope to any local students or children who want to pursue a science career, I feel it is important for me to do that.”
Dupuis doesn’t rule out a return to academia in the future, particularly if he is able to combine his knowledge of quantitative finance with physics, but says that decision is still a long way down the road.