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Black Holes and Neutron Stars Help Catch ‘Waves’

Gravitational-Wave Scientists Receive NSF Research Funding for Global Effort

Sept. 9, 2013

Simulation of two merging black holes, run on a supercomputer, is the focus of CSUF gravitational wave research efforts. Image courtesy of Evan Foley and Geoffrey Lovelace.

Two Cal State Fullerton physicists have each received research awards from the National Science Foundation to support the detection of gravitational waves.

Jocelyn Read and Geoffrey Lovelace, both assistant professors of physics and researchers at CSUF's Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center since fall 2012, each received $126,000 awards for projects related to black holes and neutron-star astrophysics research.

"The NSF support will greatly expand our research capabilities, particularly in theory, and involve many more students in gravitational-wave science," said Joshua Smith, assistant professor of physics and GWPAC director.

The complementary research areas of the GWPAC team, who enlist CSUF undergrads and graduate students in their work, ties into the NSF-supported Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory project, known as Advanced LIGO. The LIGO detectors, part of a worldwide effort, will soon begin searching the sky for gravitational waves.

To conduct the simulations of the astrophysics of neutron star and black hole systems, Lovelace and Read have also built a supercomputer, called ORCA for Orange County Relativity Cluster for Astronomy.

"We expect this work to result in new understanding of how these stellar objects behave in extreme conditions, as well as journal articles with undergraduate co-authors," Smith said.

Read's project explores how neutron stars produce gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time. She and her students will use a combination of computer simulations and mathematical models to predict the shape of the gravitational waves that are produced by two neutron stars in a binary system spiraling towards each other and colliding.

"The waves encode information about the two stars, such as how massive they were and how compact they were. We will incorporate improved models into experimental data analysis so that the LIGO Scientific Collaboration can learn as much as possible from observed gravitational waves," explained the astrophysicist, who with Smith, are among scientists in the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Lovelace's research uses supercomputer simulations to study what happens when two black holes or a black hole and neutron star smash into each other, sending out gravitational waves.

"By predicting the gravitational waves from merging black holes and neutron stars, this work will help to maximize the number of gravitational waves that these detectors will see," Lovelace explained.

"What I'm most excited about is showing students how new scientific knowledge is discovered," Lovelace added. "While carrying out simulations that will help experimenters see as many gravitational waves as possible, students will also learn a number of skills, like how to analyze simulated data and how to access and use high-performance supercomputers. These skills will be invaluable for their future careers."

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research