Teukolsky to explore the Dark Universe in Spring Hans Bethe Lecture

Einstein predicted black holes and gravitational waves – bizarre deviations from Newton’s theory of gravity – but it took almost a century before experiments proved him right. Those experimenters won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, but why do gravitational waves matter? And why is the recent detection of waves from colliding neutron stars causing such a stir?

In this spring’s Hans Bethe Lecture at Cornell, astrophysicist Saul Teukolsky will explain gravitational waves and describe how he and his colleagues at Cornell used supercomputers to show that the waves came from black holes. The free public lecture, “Black Holes, Neutron Stars and Gravitational Waves: Was Einstein Right?” will be held Wednesday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium, Rockefeller Hall.

“The detection of gravitational waves is the culmination of a decades-long effort by thousands of scientists around the world. It opens a new observational window on the universe,” said Eanna Flanagan, the Edward L. Nichols Professor of Physics, chair of physics and professor of astronomy. “We are looking forward to hearing the story of this discovery and its significance from Professor Teukolsky, one of the foremost experts in the field.”

Teukolsky, Cornell’s Hans A. Bethe Professor of Physics, was among the recipients of the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, a $3 million award that recognized those who helped create the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which first detected gravitational waves.

In addition to his work on solving Einstein’s equations of general relativity by computer, Teukolsky has also worked on naked singularities in general relativity; the properties of rapidly rotating neutron stars; exploding neutron stars; relativistic stellar dynamics; and planets around pulsars. The master equation he developed, known as the Teukolsky Equation, describes the scalar, electromagnetic and gravitational perturbations of a Kerr black hole.

Teukolsky received his undergraduate degrees in physics and applied math from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology. He has taught at Cornell since 1974 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2003.

As part of the Hans Bethe Lecture series, Teukolsky will give a physics colloquium, “Testing General Relativity with LIGO,” March 26, at 4 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium, Rockefeller Hall, and an astronomy colloquium, “The Coming Revolution in Computational Astrophysics,” March 29, at 4 p.m. in 105 Space Sciences Building.

The Hans Bethe Lectures, established by the Department of Physics and the College of Arts and Sciences, honor Bethe, Cornell professor of physics from 1936 until his death in 2005. Bethe won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1967 for his description of the nuclear processes that power the sun.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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