College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Physicist Honored for Black Hole Research

A University of Mississippi physicist has been honored with the National Science Foundation’s Early Career Development Award.

Assistant professor Emanuele Berti is one of few UM faculty members ever to win the prestigious CAREER award and the only awardee for this year nationally in gravitational physics.

“I am overjoyed,” Berti said regarding the NSF honor. “CAREER awards are very competitive. This year only about 15 percent of the applicants, many of them from the most prestigious research institutions in the United States, received an award.

“Receiving the award was a great honor, and now I must work to live up to the expectations in terms of research quality, education and outreach.”
The grant money covers Berti’s summer salary and supports one graduate student and one postdoctoral student. Funds will also be used for travel, materials, supplies and publications costs.

This CAREER award supports UM research on the physics and astrophysics of binary systems containing black holes and/or neutrons stars (compact binaries). These systems are among the most promising sources of gravitational waves to be detected by present and future gravitational-wave observatories, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, known as LIGO, and the space-based Laser Interferometer Space Antenna.

“One of the main challenges in gravitational-wave data analysis consists of extracting the signal emitted by the system from the noisy detector output,” Berti said. “For the extraction to be successful, accurate theoretical ‘template’ waveforms of the signal are needed. This research will improve theoretical knowledge of gravitational waveforms from merging compact binaries using a combination of analytical techniques, such as the so-called post-Newtonian approximation and black hole perturbation theory, and numerical simulations.”

The project will explore the potential of future gravitational-wave observations to test the predictions of general relativity, as opposed to alternative theories of gravity. It will also “put more astronomy in gravitational-wave astronomy” by investigating the astrophysical implications of gravitational-wave observations, and by stimulating interactions between the general relativity community and the larger astrophysical community, he added.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy shares in Berti’s honor, said Lucien Cremaldi, chair and professor.

“We are very proud that his work in gravitational physics is supported at the highest levels at the NSF,” Cremaldi said. “Obtaining support in theoretical physics is very competitive, and the CAREER award is a sign that the University of Mississippi is seen as a well-equipped place to do cutting edge research in black hole physics.”

Berti, who is part of UM’s Gravitational and High-Energy Physics group, previously received a $50,000-per-year NSF grant. A primary goal of the new CAREER award is to promote scientific education in Mississippi and the recruitment of minorities in the physical sciences.

“Black hole and gravitational wave astronomy are fascinating topics for college students,” Berti said. “Building on the successful outreach efforts of Dr. (Marco) Cavaglia’s group, I propose a five-year outreach program to engage junior colleges and community colleges and to promote scientific literacy throughout the state.”

The program will consist of lectures, multimedia presentations, hands-on physics demonstrations, visits to the UM campus and to the LIGO gravitational-wave interferometer in Louisiana. Historically black colleges and universities, community colleges and schools in the Mississippi Delta will particularly be targeted.

Earlier this year, Berti also became the first UM physicist to receive an Outstanding Referee Award from the American Physical Society.

Berti earned both his doctorate in astrophysics and his Laurea degree in physics from the University of Rome “La Sapienza.” Before joining the UM faculty in 2009, he was a NASA ORAU senior fellow at JPL/California Institute of Technology and a postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis, the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He has more than 50 published papers and gave more than 50 conference talks during his career.