Predicting gravitational waves

Dr. Jan Steinhoff becomes a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics

September 03, 2019

On September 1st, 2019, Dr. Steinhoff  became a group leader in Professor Alessandra Buonanno’s department at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI) in Potsdam. Jan Steinhoff will lead a research group to push the frontier of analytic, perturbative solutions to the two-body problem in gravity, taking also advantage of recent methods developed in high-energy particle physics.

The observation of gravitational waves from coalescing binary black holes and neutron stars provides the unique opportunity to probe fundamental physics, dynamical gravity and matter under extreme conditions. But successful searches and correct identifications of the sources require detailed knowledge of the expected signals. Scientists at the AEI predict accurate waveform models of binary systems in general relativity by combining exact, but time-consuming numerical simulations on high-performance computers with approximate, but fast analytical methods. The first analytic studies date back more than 100 years, when Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916. A lot of progress has been made since then, and Jan Steinhoff started his career doing analytical calculations to model effects from rotation of black holes.

“I am very happy that Jan Steinhoff who is an excellent scientist and has been a valuable member of my department since 2014 decided to stay as a group leader,” says Alessandra Buonanno, Managing Director of the AEI. “Recently, Dr. Steinhoff’s research has focused on analytical methods borrowed from particle physics which show great potential and are developing into a thriving field in gravitational physics. His work also includes imprints in gravitational waves from neutron-star physics and deviations from Einstein's theory of gravity.”

Another important reason to explore new techniques for theoretical gravitational-wave predictions are future observatories such as third-generation detectors on the ground (Einstein Telescope and Cosmic Explorer) and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). Observations from these detectors will put large demands on the theoretical waveform templates: predictions need to be more accurate, span a longer time, and cover a larger range of parameters or sources.

“During the last 5 years, I found that the AEI in Potsdam provides the ideal environment for theoretical gravitational-wave research,” says Jan Steinhoff. “The close link between theory and observations is unique in our division. Other divisions and neighboring institutes offer a large range of expertise in particle physics and astrophysics, with further exiting opportunities for collaborations. I am delighted to stay at the AEI as a group leader and contribute to shape its future.”

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