Asking the most fundamental questions about the Universe

New Lise Meitner Research Group “Gravitational Theory and Cosmology” established at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Hannover

August 20, 2019

On September 1st, 2019, the new research group “Gravitational Theory and Cosmology” funded by the Max Planck Society’s Lise Meitner Excellence Program will add new expertise to the institute’s research portfolio. Led by Dr. Anna Ijjas, the group’s focus will involve applications of mathematical and numerical relativity to study theories of the origin, evolution, and future of the Universe and the relationship to black hole physics.

Tackling the big open questions of cosmology

Dr. Anna Ijjas, leader of the new Lise Meitner Group “Gravitational Theory and Cosmology”

“I am very excited about establishing my own research group at the Max Planck Institute in Hannover and truly look forward to joining the AEI,” says Dr. Anna Ijjas, leader of the Lise Meitner Research Group “Gravitational Theory and Cosmology” at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover. “The Lise Meitner Excellence Program provides a unique career opportunity and there is hardly a better place to do research in gravitational physics than the Albert Einstein Institute.”

In her research, Ijjas tackles the big open questions of cosmology, such as the origin and evolution of the Universe, its composition, and future fate, as well as the implications for gravitational theory in other situations involving space-time singularities, such as black holes. She combines novel theoretical ideas and concepts with modern techniques of mathematical and numerical general relativity. The ultimate goal of her work is to make these fundamental questions testable through astrophysical observations.

Pushing the boundaries of knowledge

“Each day, I get to ask some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe. That alone is pretty special!” says Ijjas. “But what excites me most is the prospect that I can make a real difference in pushing the boundaries of our collective knowledge.”

“I am delighted that Dr. Ijjas chose to join our institute with one of the few prestigious Lise Meitner groups,” says Prof. Karsten Danzmann, Managing Director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics. “Her excellent research expertise ties in very well with other research groups at our institute and further widens the already broad spectrum of our research on Einstein’s general theory of relativity and beyond.”

Anna Ijjas is a theoretical physicist, working at the intersection between gravitational theory and cosmology. A native of Hungary, she did her undergraduate studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. After a brief stint in the philosophy of physics that earned her an award-winning PhD in 2010, she completed her (second) PhD in theoretical physics in 2014 at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin based on thesis research done at Harvard and Princeton. Subsequently, she went on to become the inaugural John A. Wheeler Postdoctoral Fellow at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science and spent the past two years at Columbia and Harvard as a Principal Investigator of the Simons Foundation’s “Origins of the Universe” Initiative. In 2019 she joins the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover as a Lise Meitner Research Group Leader.

Cosmic evolution in a cyclic universe: the big bang is replaced by a bounce and our universe is born as a result of a smooth transition from an early epoch of contraction to the current expanding phase.

The Max Planck Society’s Lise Meitner Excellence Program

Launched in 2018 by the Max Planck Society, the Lise Meitner Excellence Program is aimed at attracting excellent female scientists and ensuring equal career opportunities. The program is designed to identify highly motivated and committed female scientists in the breakthrough phase of their career, and to develop these researchers in a structured manner to fill leadership positions in science and in particular at the Max Planck Society.

In the first call of the Lise Meitner Excellence Program, almost 300 candidates applied for group leadership positions. They underwent a competitive, multi-stage selection process, and 31 highly qualified applicants were invited to a personal presentation at a symposium.

Based on their impressive research accomplishments to date and their demonstrably strong potential, the Max Planck Society offered an appointment to twelve young female researchers. Anna Ijjas is one of them.

Future stars of science

Every researcher in the Lise Meitner Excellence Program is offered to take part in a tenure track process, which – following a positive decision by the tenure committee – will lead to a permanent W2 position with group equipment. Moreover, the program is aimed at the future stars within a research field – at an early stage in their scientific careers. Successful researchers have the subsequent chance of becoming a director at a Max Planck Institute.

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