IOP Gravitational Physics Group Thesis Prize for Benjamin Leather

Accurate waveforms for the future gravitational-wave detector in space

April 12, 2023

The 2022 Gravitational Physics Group Thesis Prize of the Institute of Physics (IOP) will be presented to Benjamin Leather, postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI). He receives the award, endowed with £500, for his outstanding doctoral thesis on gravitational waveforms for the planned space-based detector LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) which he completed at the University College Dublin.

When a relatively small compact object is moving on a decaying orbit about, and ultimately into, a supermassive black hole (of about 104 - 107 solar masses), the system loses energy by radiating gravitational waves. Depending on the mass of the smaller object, these astrophysical systems are called Extreme-mass-ratio inspirals (EMRIs: mass ratio is about 10,000 or more) or Intermediate-mass-ratio inspirals (IMRIs: mass ratio is about 1,000). These binaries are considered significant potential sources for the future space-based gravitational-wave detector LISA which will be sensitive in the millihertz frequency band. Inspirals of this nature are long-lived (estimated to be ~ 100,000 cycles) and are expected to possess a highly complex morphology with eccentric and spin-precessing trajectories of the small compact object. Precise inference of the astrophysical properties of the source – e.g. the mass and the spin of the central black hole – requires highly accurate waveform templates covering these long inspirals. 

Waveforms for a future gravitational-wave detector

“I’m really delighted to receive this award honoring my research on calculating waveforms for potential LISA sources,” says Benjamin Leather. “In my dissertation, I presented novel computational approaches that extend current calculations to a more realistic scenario of systems where the smaller companions are in eccentric inspirals and systems where the larger black hole is spinning. The new techniques promise to model both EMRIs and intermediate-mass-ratio-inspirals (IMRIs).”

Benjamin Leather obtained his Master in Physics degree at the University of Manchester in 2018. In 2022, he finished his PhD with a thesis entitled “Numerical approaches to first- and second-order self-force calculations“ at University College Dublin. Since November 2022, he has been a postdoctoral researcher in the Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity Department of Prof. Alessandra Buonanno at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Potsdam.

The IOP Gravitational Physics Group Thesis Prize (endowed with £500) is awarded annually for excellence in physics research and communication. The winner will be invited to submit a paper to the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity based on their thesis. If accepted, it is made a select article in the journal.


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