Alessandra Buonanno earns Dirac Medal

Professor Buonanno is honored for pioneering accurate and rapid computation of waveforms that are crucial in detecting gravitational waves

August 09, 2021

With the Dirac Medal and Price, the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), in Trieste, Italy, honors distinguished scientists who have made significant contributions to theoretical physics. Professor Buonanno shares the award with Professors Thibault Damour, Frans Pretorius, and Saul Teukolsky. The prize is endowed with US$ 5,000.

“It is a great honor for me to receive this prestigious award. It’s a wonderful recognition not only of my own research in gravitational waves, but of the work that the members of my research groups at the AEI and University of Maryland have done over many years,” says Alessandra Buonanno, head of the department “Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity” at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI) in Potsdam.

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. Successful searches, precise inference of astrophysical properties and correct identifications of sources require detailed knowledge of the expected signals. Alessandra Buonanno and researchers in her departments at the AEI and the University of Maryland develop accurate waveform models that are employed to identify the gravitational waves observed by the Advanced LIGO and Virgo detectors and to infer astrophysical and cosmological properties of the sources.

The international selection committee awarded the medal with the following citation:
“The 2021 Dirac Medal and Prize is awarded to Alessandra Buonanno, Thibault Damour, Frans Pretorius, and Saul Teukolsky for establishing the predicted properties of gravitational waves in the curvature of spacetime produced when stars or black holes spiral together and merge. This achievement was essential for the LIGO detection of gravitational waves from these energetic astronomical events. The consistency of theory and observation is an impressive check of the accuracy of the general theory of relativity.”

Alessandra Buonanno studied theoretical physics in Pisa, and held faculty positions in Paris and at the University of Maryland, where she became full professor in 2010. She is a Principal Investigator of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. For her contributions to LIGO and Virgo discoveries, she was awarded several prizes, including the 2018 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz prize – the most prestigious research prize in Germany – and the 2021 Galileo Galilei Medal. She recently has been elected member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, of the US National Academy of Sciences, and of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Buonanno is a Fellow of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation, and of the American Physical Society. She holds a research professorship at the University of Maryland, and honorary professorships at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and at the University of Potsdam.

The ICTP's Dirac Medal, first awarded in 1985, is given in honor of Paul Dirac, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century and a staunch friend of the Centre. It is awarded annually on Dirac's birthday, 8 August, to scientists who have made significant contributions to theoretical physics. The award winners also receive a prize of US$ 5,000.

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