Maria Rodriguez appointed member of the mentoring program of the Max Planck Society

July 06, 2017

Dr. Maria Rodriguez, leader of a Minerva research group at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI), has been appointed member of the Elisabeth Schiemann Kolleg. This is an honor conferred usually to five new members every year.

The Elisabeth Schiemann Kolleg is a mentoring program of the Max Planck Society that supports outstanding young female scientists after their postdoc phase, helping them to succeed on their way to an appointment as a tenured professor or as a director of a research institution. Fellows are professionally supported by renowned Max Planck researchers including eleven Max Planck Directors.

“I’m very happy and proud to become a fellow of this program,” says Maria Rodriguez. The young scientist leads the Minerva Research Group Gravitation and Black Hole Theory at the AEI. Research of this independent research group focuses on theoretical aspects of black holes and the astonishing effects they have on the surrounding space-time.

Black holes have been predicted by Einstein’s relativity. They are extremely dense and their gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape. That’s why they are not observable with telescopes looking for electromagnetic radiation.

Einstein and black holes

Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes the structure of space-time and of gravitational forces on a cosmic scale. According to Einstein's theory, every body gravitates because it bends the space surrounding it, changing the flow of time in the process. At the same time, the movement of a body in a gravitational field is determined by how it “fits” into the warped space-time.

Black holes emerge from Einstein’s field equations as a natural solution for matter concentrated at one point. At this point, gravity and the curvature of space-time become infinitely large. However, this so-called singularity has no meaning from a physical point of view. Much more interesting is the “event horizon”: the distance from the mass point below which gravity becomes so strong that nothing can escape from it. For a non-rotating black hole this is a perfect sphere, but these static black holes are very rare in nature: black holes originate from super nova explosions and normally the exploding star is rotating, transferring its spin to the newborn black hole.

Black holes rotating at the speed of light

Scientists are thus calculating the behavior of rotating black holes and the physical processes in their vicinity. Analytically, such calculations have been successful only for very slowly rotating black holes. Maria Rodriguez, on the other hand, is interested in black holes that rotate almost at the speed of light and may produce high-energy jets. Jets occur when electrically charged matter is rotating around the black hole and a strong magnetic field is formed. Some of the charged particles are deflected along the magnetic field lines and either fall even more rapidly into the black hole or are ejected along the rotational axis. “Astronomers have observed very high-energy jets in around 20 active galaxies or quasars,” says Rodriguez. “Probably there is an extremely massive, rapidly rotating black hole at their center.”

In order to understand these processes, Maria Rodriguez solves the equations of electrodynamics and, simultaneously, Einstein’s equations of general relativity. These models that capture the genesis of black hole jets from rotating black holes can be applied to both supermassive black holes of millions of solar masses in the centers of galaxies and to less massive stellar black holes formed by the gravitational collapse of a star.

Dr. Maria Rodriguez came to AEI after her postdoctoral appointments in the US (A. Strominger Group at Harvard University) and Europe (H. Nicolai Group at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and I. Bena at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique in Saclay, France). She graduated as physics major from La Plata National University, one of the oldest and most respected institutions in the country. In 2008, she obtained her PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Barcelona, Spain. Throughout her training years she received four fellowships from the Argentinean and Spanish Governments and four prizes including distinctions as a finalist in the Argentinean Mathematical Olympics.

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