Tom Shafer

Hi, I'm Tom—a husband, musician, physicist, programmer, and now a lead data scientist working for Elder Research in Raleigh, NC. Previously, I completed a Ph.D. studying theoretical nuclear physics at the University of North Carolina. My wife and I are members of the The Summit Church in Durham, NC.


My physics research focused on radioactive properties of the very heaviest atomic nuclei. These nuclei's half-lives are an important puzzle piece in the search for the (cosmic) origin of the elements heavier than iron. To calculate these half-lives, our group developed a program—a proton-neutron extension of the finite amplitude method—that significantly reduces the computational cost of certain half-life calculations [Phys. Rev. C, preprint]. Some in our group then applied the program to calculate the properties of thousands of nuclei [Phys. Rev. C, preprint], while I extended the method to compute the half-lives of nuclei with odd numbers of protons and/or neutrons. This extension allowed us to investigate the properties of two especially important sets of heavy nuclei [Phys. Rev. C, preprint].

This line of research is especially relevant given LIGO's 2017 detection of a neutron star merger (a scenario hypothesized to form such heavy elements) and follow-up observations attempting to determine whether or not this merger event produced significant quantities of heavy nuclei.

Programming & Data Science

Programming and data analysis comprised a large fraction of my research effort. Our group's application of the finite amplitude method to beta decay was written in Fortan (≥90) and parallelized across both cores (OpenMP) and nodes (MPI). Besides Fortran, I also wrote a lot of Python for post-processing, analysis, and plotting (typically using Numpy, Scipy, and Matplotlib).

Since joining Elder Research, I have dived into R programming and love some of the things that can be done with, e.g., the tidyverse set of packages—dplyr, tidyr, and purrr, especially. I've also recently returned to Python, working on problems in computer vision on GPUs with the PyTorch framework.


I play guitars and have worked with The Summit Church, Port City Community Church, Lee Hester, and others. These days, I'm actively involved with The Summit Church and Summit Worship.

A Few Records

A Few Videos

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