Leibniz Prize awarded to Alessandra Buonanno

The prize recognizes Prof. Buonanno’s key role in the first direct observation of gravitational waves

March 19, 2018

Today, the President of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Prof. Peter Strohschneider presented Prof. Alessandra Buonanno, Director at the Max Plank Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, with the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize. This prize, endowed with €2.5 million, is the most important research award in Germany.

The award was presented during a ceremony at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin. “Alessandra Buonanno's insights into the physics of gravitational waves cut through the fog of space, time, and all-engulfing matter and literally reveal views of Einstein's wildest assumptions,” said DFG president Strohschneider.

The detection of gravitational waves

In September 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected for the first time a gravitational wave passing through the Earth – a scientific discovery of historic importance, which was made possible by the forceful and outstanding work of about a thousand scientists over the last three decades. This revolutionary discovery was rewarded with the Physics Nobel Prize in 2017.

Buonanno and her team have been working for about 15 years to develop accurate waveform models that are crucial to observe and interpret gravitational-wave signals from binary systems composed of black holes and neutron stars. Observations of these binary systems have a vast impact in astrophysics, fundamental physics, and cosmology.

Alessandra Buonanno is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Potsdam and College Park Professor at the University of Maryland. In 2016 she was awarded the Lower Saxony State Award together with her Hannover colleagues Professor Bruce Allen and Professor Karsten Danzmann. As a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, she received numerous other awards: the 2016 Gruber Prize and the Special Breakthrough Prize, as well as the 2017 Princess of Asturias Prize, the Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society, and the Achievement Award of the Royal Astronomical Society. Since 2017, Buonanno has been honorary professor at the University of Potsdam and the Humboldt University in Berlin.

The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize is the most important research prize in Germany. It has been awarded by the DFG annually since 1986. Each year about ten recipients are selected, each with prize money of up to €2.5 million. The awardees can use these funds for their research work for up to seven years.

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