82nd Mississippi Academy of Sciences Meeting

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Some of our graduate students took part in the 82nd Annual Mississippi Academy of Sciences Meeting on February 22-23 at the University of Southern Mississippi. Shrobana Ghosh and Sunethra Dayavansha shared the first prize for the best talk. BB Pilgrim won the second prize for talks in the Physics and Engineering division. Ashoka Karunarathne won the third prize for a poster at the Mississippi INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research) graduate scholars symposium, held at the same meeting. Congratulations!

New NASA Award

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Our NASA Astrophysics Theory Program (ATP) Grant Proposal 17-ATP17-0047 (Exploring Extreme Gravity with LISA: Developing a Science Case for Tests of General Relativity) (PI: Emanuele Berti, Co-PI: Nicolás Yunes) was recommended for funding. The total award amount is $815,554 over 3 years. This is the proposal summary:

This proposal is focused on developing the experimental-relativity science case for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). We propose to explore tests of General Relativity with LISA gravitational wave data using different astrophysical population models and astrophysical sources to forecast what will be possible in the era of space-based detectors. We will create and develop tools to carry out consistency checks of Einstein’s theory and to search for modified gravity anomalies with LISA data. We will explore how the strength of these tests varies with population models and with astrophysical sources, mapping out the theory space that will be constrainable with LISA. We will also explore the strength of combining LISA data with ground-based gravitational wave observations to carry out tests of Einstein’s theory with multi-wavelength observations.

The proposed work is of direct relevance to NASA’s strategic mission to better understand the universe through observation, and to NASA’s mission of discovery and knowledge. The region of the universe where gravity is very strong and dynamically changing (the extreme gravity universe) is one of the last unturned stones. This is in part because extreme gravity objects, like black holes, are difficult to resolve due to their size and distance from Earth. NASA’s investment in space-borne gravitational wave astrophysics as a partner to ESA is aimed at resolving such objects and, for the first time, exploring the extreme gravity universe in detail. The focus of this proposal is to aid in this endeavor by developing the understanding needed to extract the most information about theoretical physics and modified gravity constraints from LISA data.

New PRL: Light-Ring Stability for Ultracompact Objects

Monday, December 18, 2017

Five of the groundbreaking gravitational wave detections by the LIGO/Virgo collaboration have been interpreted as black hole collisions forming a more massive black hole. It is hard to demonstrate conclusively that these objects are indeed black holes, and there is a lively debate on the intriguing possibility that other, more exotic alternatives could explain the observations. An article by Pedro Cunha, Emanuele Berti and Carlos Herdeiro, published today in Physical Review Letters, provides a generic no-go theorem for these exotic alternatives.

The remnant black hole born from black hole collisions vibrates with a characteristic signature - a “sound” similar to a ringing bell. This special signature, called ringdown, is related to the existence of special orbits called “light rings”: around a black hole, gravity bends light so much that light rays can circumnavigate the black hole (so if you were close enough to a black hole, you could see the back of your head). Some exotic alternatives to black holes can also have light rings, and therefore they can ring down just like black holes. It has been proposed that these “black hole mimickers” could have produced the events observed by LIGO/Virgo.

This Letter shows that if the compact object is not a black hole, it must necessarily have a second light ring. This second light ring differs from the first in one crucial way: it traps radiation. The trapped radiation piles up and destabilizes the exotic compact object, making it unlikely to exist in Nature. The implication is that these exotic objects are generically unstable, and therefore that the LIGO-Virgo detections are really evidence for black holes.

The figure below is a schematic illustration of an ultracompact object with two light rings: the unstable light ring produces gravitational radiation that can potentially imitate the signal from a black hole, but the second (stable) light ring traps radiation and destabilizes the object.


Assistant Professor in Gravitational-Wave Astronomy

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Mississippi invites applications for a tenure-track position in gravitational-wave astronomy at the rank of assistant professor for the Spring or Fall of 2018. Current faculty members working on gravitational physics (Berti, Bombelli, Cavaglià, and Dooley) have expertise in gravitational-wave source modeling, data analysis and instrumentation, quantum gravity, tests of general relativity, and cosmology. The University of Mississippi is part of the LIGO collaboration. We seek candidates from any area that complements or diversifies the group’s research interests in gravitational-wave astronomy. Candidates are expected to develop a research program capable of supporting and leading graduate students to a Ph.D. A competitive startup package is available in the first three years. A Ph.D. in Physics or a related field is required. Faculty members are expected to contribute to the teaching and service activities of the Department and the University. Teaching duties include up to three courses a year at the undergraduate and/or graduate level. In 2017, the University of Mississippi initiated Flagship Constellations, which are designed to bring together a wide range of faculty from across campus to address some of the most difficult and complex problems facing our nation and world. Candidates who are interested in working with cross-disciplinary researchers to solve key, grand challenges are encouraged to apply.

Interested candidates should apply online at https://jobs.olemiss.edu and provide a curriculum vitae, three letters of recommendation, a statement of teaching philosophy, and a detailed proposal for developing their research program. Inquiries can be sent to the email address gravitysearch@phy.olemiss.edu or to

Gravity Search Committee Chair
Department of Physics and Astronomy
The University of Mississippi
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677

Consideration of applications will begin on October 20, 2017 but applications will be accepted until an adequate applicant pool is established, or until the position is filled.

The University of Mississippi is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA Employer.

Postdoctoral Position in Gravitational-Wave Astronomy

Friday, September 8, 2017

The University of Mississippi invites applications for a postdoctoral position in the area of Gravitational Wave Astronomy. The position is for one year, renewable for up to three years. The applicant must have (or be close to completing) a Ph.D. in Physics or Astrophysics, with a good track record in one or more of the following research areas: gravitational-wave source modeling and parameter estimation, the astrophysics of compact binaries, Bayesian model selection, black hole perturbation theory, post-Newtonian theory, numerical relativity and modified gravity.

The Gravitational and High-Energy Theory Group at the University of Mississippi is active in various areas of theoretical and experimental gravity, and is part of the LIGO collaboration. Permanent faculty in the group include Emanuele Berti, Luca Bombelli, Marco Cavaglia and Katherine Dooley, as well as postdocs and several graduate students.

More information on the gravity group in Mississippi is available at the following URL:


The postdoctoral scholar funded by this position will work with Professor Emanuele Berti (http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/~berti/) and several Ph.D. students. The research will be carried out in close collaboration with the group led by Bangalore Sathyaprakash, Elsbach Professor of Physics and Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University. The successful applicant is expected to engage in a collaborative research program including several institutions (Lisbon, Cambridge, Rome, Paris and Aveiro in Europe, Perimeter Institute in Canada, and Osaka University in Japan) through the “Strong Gravity and High Energy Physics” Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) Action, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program H2020-MSCA-RISE-2015.

A curriculum vitae (including a list of publications and a statement of research interests) should be sent to the following e-mail address:


Please use the subject “Gravitational wave postdoc”. Applicants must also arrange to have at least three recommendation letters to be sent to the same email address.

Applications should be submitted by 12/1/2017, but late applications may be considered in exceptional cases. The position will be open until filled.