Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Distinguished Lecture | Gilleo Lectureship

Gravitational Waves: A New Window to the Universe

Nergis MavalvalaCurtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics; Assoc. Dept. Head of PhysicsMIT

The M. Alten Gilleo Distinguished Lectureship in Optical Sciences and Optoelectronics brings the world’s top
researchers in the field of optics and optoelectronics to Michigan. The Lectureship was established by Anita
Gilleo (BS Lit “44) in honor of her brother, Mathias Alten Gilleo (BSE EE “44). Alten Gilleo made significant
contributions to optics and solid state physics throughout his career, and worked in some of the most
advanced research labs of his time.
Recent announcements of the first ever detections of gravitational waves from colliding black holes and neutron stars have launched a new era of gravitational wave astrophysics. I will
describe the science, technology, and human story behind these discoveries that provide a completely new window into some of the most violent and warped events in the Universe.
Nergis Mavalvala is the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Associate Head of the Department of Physics.

She is a physicist whose research focuses on the detection of gravitational waves from violent events in the cosmos that warp and ripple the fabric of spacetime. She is a leading figure in the scientific team that in early 2016 announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors. This breakthrough and subsequent observations have ushered in a new era of astrophysics, opening a window into the violent and warped universe not visible with light.

In addition to her work on developing technologies for gravitational wave detectors since her graduate student years in the 1990s, Mavalvala has also conducted pioneering experiments to generate exotic quantum states of light and to optically cool and trap mirrors to enable observation of quantum effects that are usually manifested in the microscopic world in human-scale objects.

She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010 and election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2017. Mavalvala earned a BA in physics and astronomy from Wellesley College and a PhD in physics from MIT.

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