College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Physicist from Portugal Returns to UM as Fulbright Scholar

Visiting physicist Vitor Cardoso is glad to be at the University of Mississippi as a 2008-09 Fulbright Scholar for several reasons, the main one being his options in researching gravitational waves.

Vitor Cardoso works at the console in the control room of LIGO's Livingston Laboratory. Courtesy photo.

Vitor Cardoso works at the console in the control room of LIGO's Livingston Laboratory. Courtesy photo.

With UM’s strength in his research field and its proximity to the Louisiana Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, facility, Cardoso has opportunities he simply did not have back home in Portugal. LIGO is a scientific collaboration that includes more than 500 scientists from 47 institutions globally working to detect gravitational waves.

“It’s quite simple to interact with people at the (Louisiana) site, to understand and try to improve the detector, which is one of the fundamental issues in gravitational wave detection,” Cardoso said. “This is clearly impossible to do from Lisbon.”

Cardoso’s research sometimes lands in at least one black hole, if not two. His more recent work involved a computer simulation of two black holes smashing into each other at the speed of light. At UM, he’s researching gravitational waves – theoretical “ripples” in space-time. The concept emerged shortly after Albert Einstein unveiled the general theory of relativity in 1916, but their existence has never been proven.

“In Einstein’s theory, space and time are described as a single entity called space-time,” said Marco Cavaglia, assistant professor of physics and astronomy and principal investigator of the UM LIGO team. “Just like a stretched piece of fabric is distorted by a heavy object placed upon it, the space-time geometry is continuously distorted by the presence of mass or energy.”

For Cardoso, working with Cavaglia is a reunion of sorts. The two worked closely together during Cardoso’s earlier stint at UM as a research associate.

“My research is basically tied to Dr. Cavaglia’s own research in gravitational waves,” Cardoso said. “Gravitational waves still haven’t been detected due to their feebleness. This may change in the near future, thanks in part to LIGO and their sites in Louisiana and Washington State.”

While being selected for a Fulbright is an honor, he also sees it as a responsibility.

“Of course, it means your peers feel you’re doing honest, serious and important research,” he said. “But for me, it has the added bonus of solidifying the ties between IST and Ole Miss gravity groups, which is very special for me. I feel strongly tied to both of them, both have very young and talented researchers and are growing quite fast.”

Cardoso is one of 850 outstanding foreign faculty and professionals teaching and conducting research in the United States through the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program. Besides being an adjunct professor of physics at UM, he’s a research scientist at IST in Lisbon. But while Cardoso is technically a “visiting professor,” he’s hardly a visitor. After two years as a research associate at UM, he feels right at home in Oxford.

“I am returning to Mississippi on a Fulbright, and it is a wonderful sensation coming back,” Cardoso said. “I do miss Portuguese food, but I am glad to be here and appreciate the Southern quietude, peacefulness, good music and good friends in Oxford. Once you’ve lived here, you’re an Oxonian for life.”

For more information on the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy/ .