Jaco de Swart

AIP Robert H.G. Helleman Postdoctoral Fellow

Jaco de Swart is a historian and anthropologist of physics, and currently a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society, and affiliate at MIT’s Department of Physics. He trained in theoretical physics (MSc) and philosophy (MA), and obtained his PhD in history of science at the University of Amsterdam’s Institute of Physics. He worked as a postdoc at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research with Annemarie Mol, and was awarded the inaugural American Institute of Physics Robert H.G. Helleman Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2022 to continue his work on the history of dark matter with David Kaiser at MIT.

At the heart of de Swart’s research is the desire to engage with open problems in physics by studying its history and practices. His work focuses on the search for dark matter —one of the central problems in physics and astronomy. In his historical research, he traces the conceptual and material conditions under which the dark matter problem struck root between the 1960s and 1980s, showing how this invisible object reshaped what it meant to do a science of the universe. At the same time, in his anthropological work, de Swart investigates how, after four decades of null-results, dark matter researchers are running into intellectual, experimental, and environmental limits. One of his projects, together with Annemarie Mol, is about how dark matter physicists clean their experiments. At MIT, he is reworking his dissertation, titled How Dark Matter Came to Matter, into a book manuscript.

For his research, de Swart was a visitor at Princeton University and Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, and his work has been supported by grants from the American Institute of Physics and the Dutch Society for the Advancement of Science and Medicine. He and his work have appeared in many popular media outlets in the Netherlands, including Dutch national radio and television shows (Beau, Studio MAX, Radio 1), various Dutch newspapers (Volkskrant, NRC, Parool), and multiple podcasts and video lectures (Universiteit van Nederland, Verrukkelijke Wetenschap).

De Swart enjoys riding his bike, feeding his chickens, playing his bass, and living sustainably. He is a first generation student and scholar, and was born in the rural hinterlands of the Netherlands.