Pakistan-Born MIT Professor Nergis Mavalvala helps detect Einstein’s gravitational waves

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Nergis Mavalvala

CAMBRIDGE, MA—It is perhaps the biggest scientific news of this century and probably of many centuries: the detection of Einstein’s gravitational waves; and Pakistan-born MIT Professor Nergis Mavalvala played a role in this discovery as she was a part of this team.

Nergis Mavalvala
Nergis Mavalvala

“You can almost visualize it as if you dropped a rock on the surface of a pond, and the ripple goes out,” Nergis Malvalvala, the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at MIT, told MIT News. “[It’s] something that distorts the space time around it, and that distortion propagates outward and reaches us on Earth, hundreds of millions of years later.”

For the first time, scientists observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, said in a statement.

Born to a Parsi family in Karachi, Mavalvala received her early education from the Convent of Jesus and Mary school, an administration official from the educational institute to Dawn newspaper in Pakistan.

Left to right: David Shoemaker, Rainer Weiss, Matthew Evans, Erotokritos Katsavounidis, Nergis Mavalvala, and Peter Fritschel. Photo: Bryce Vickmark, Courtesy: MIT News
Left to right: David Shoemaker, Rainer Weiss, Matthew Evans, Erotokritos Katsavounidis, Nergis Mavalvala, and Peter Fritschel.
Photo: Bryce Vickmark, Courtesy: MIT News

She later moved to the United States as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she is said to have a natural gift for being comfortable in her own skin, according to an article published on the sciencemag.org website, Dawn said.

Mavalvala is Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysicsand Associate Department Head of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her research focuses on interferometric Gravitational Waves and Quantum Measurement.

Mavalvala joined the Physics faculty at MIT in January 2002, according to her official bio on the MIT website. Before that, she was a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist at Caltech, working on the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). She has been involved with LIGO since her early years in graduate school at MIT and her primary research has been in instrument development for interferometric gravitational-wave detectors.

Mavalvala received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT in 1997, and a B.A. in Physics and Astronomy from Wellesley College in 1990. She was appointed Associate Department Head of Physics, effective February 1, 2015.

Mavalvala could not be reached for a comment for this story.

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