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2020 News

  • Shifu Zhu, a graduate student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, had his research discoveries on radio-loud quasars featured in a 2020 October press release by the Chandra X-ray Center. Specifically, Shifu analyzed X-ray, optical, and radio data for a large sample of 729 radio-loud quasars, with powerful radio-emitting jets, to determine the nature of their nuclear X-ray emission. His data indicated, surprisingly, that most of their X-ray emission generally does not originate from the jets themselves, but rather comes from a coronal structure lying above the accretion disk. These results challenge 35 years of thinking about the basic nature of this X-ray emission, and they provide insights into the accretion and ejection physics of these systems. For more information, see
  • Roger Penrose was awarded half of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics. Roger has been a visiting member of IGC since it was founded and also serves on its External Scientific Advisory Board. From 1993 to 2012, he also held the Francis R. and Helen M. Pentz Visiting Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Penn State. Through regular visits during the first 15 years of this period, he enriched our intellectual lives tremendously through countless discussions (that often ran late into dinner times(!)), seminars and popular lectures. See the announcement from the Penn State Research Communication Office (PDF).
  • On May 21, 2019 the Advanced LIGO detectors at Hanford and Livingston in the USA and the Virgo detector in Italy, observed a gravitational wave signal from the heaviest merger of black holes, yet observed. The merging black holes being roughly 85 and 66 times as heavy as our sun, are among the heaviest ones seen yet. The LIGO group at PSU played a significant role in the observation of this very short and difficult to detect signal which lasted for about one tenth of a second. The remnant produced by the merger is as heavy as about 142 times the mass of our sun which places it in the category of “intermediate-mass” black holes, an elusive type of heavy black holes that had not been observed directly so far. Being heavier than the black holes observed which have masses comparable to our sun, but less heavy than the supermassive black holes that occupy the centres of galaxies, these intermediate-mass black holes and their formation methods are not well understood by astrophysicists. In fact this discovery is also unusual because it questions existing astrophysical models of black hole formation and stands to open new doors in our understanding of these objects. To learn more See Full Article
  • LIGO-Virgo finds mystery object in ‘mass gap’
    On August 14, 2019, the two Advanced LIGO detectors in the US, at Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana, and the Advanced Virgo detector in Cascina, Italy, observed a gravitational wave signal produced by the inspiral and merger of two compact objects — one, a black hole, and the other of undetermined nature. The mass measured for the lighter compact object makes it either the lightest black hole or the heaviest neutron star ever discovered in a system of two compact objects, but we can’t be sure which it is. This is also the most asymmetric system observed in gravitational waves as of now. This event was detected in real time by the GstLAL inspiral pipeline which is developed and operated largely by the LIGO group at Penn State. See Full Article
  • Nature published a special collection of articles on Multi-Messenger Astrophysics. It contains a review by
    Peter Meszaros, Derek Fox, Chad Hanna and Kohta Murase Nature Reviews Physics volume 1, pages585–599(2019)
    Link PDF file

In an invited comment, Miguel Mostafa describes the Astrophysical Multimessenger Observatory Network (AMON), an online network that enables real-time coincidence searches using data from the leading multimessenger observatories and astronomical facilities.
The Astrophysical Multi-messenger Observatory Network
Nature Reviews; June 23rd, 2020.
See full article

  • Garrett Wendel, Luis Martínez, and Martin Bojowald discuss the fundamental nature of time in our universe from a novel perspective by modeling time as a universal quantum oscillator. The article, Physical Implications of a Fundamental Period of Time, was published in Physical Review Letters, 124, 241301 (2020); on19th June 2020. It was highlighted in Physics by Katherine Wright, a Senior Editor.
    See the Physics article
  • In support and solidarity with the Black community and #Strike4BlackLives, and to commit to eradicating systemic racism and discrimination especially in academia and science, IGC organized a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, June10th 2020. We had some 137 participants, also from the Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics Departments and MERSEC at Penn State, and a few from other institutions. The discussion was led by Dr. Stephon Alexander, Professor of Physics at Brown University, who is the current President of the National Association for Black Physicists. Stephon has had close associations with IGC from the time he began his faculty career at Penn State 15 years ago. While we had benefited by reading thoughtful articles and dialogs on the subject prior to the meeting, Stephon’s comments, questions and suggestions provided direct insight into the issues that are central to the thinking of leadership in the Black academic community. IGC will continue the dialog both among ourselves and also with the members of this community for ongoing improvement. Thank you, Stephon!
    Watch Meeting
  • Cambridge University Press has released a paperback edition of “General Relativity and Gravitation: A Centennial Perspective”. This volume was commissioned by the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation and is edited by A.Ashtekar(Editor in Chief), Beverly Berger, James Isenberg and Malcolm MacCallum. It contains 12 Chapters written by leading international experts that provide overviews of the spectacular advances that have occurred in the field over the past three decades or so. The material is divided into 4 parts: I. Einstein’s Triumph; II. Was Einstein right? A Centenary Assessment; III. Gravity is Geometry, Afterall; and IV. Beyond Einstein, each with a detailed general introduction written by the Editors. This volume should be an excellent resource both for graduate students as well as experienced researchers in cosmology, general relativity, gravitational waves, and quantum aspects of gravity.
    Flier describing the volume and offering a 20% discount till May 2021. PDF file
  • Physics graduate student Rachael Huxford coordinates hundreds of local mask makers, including more than 50 members of the Penn State community, to provide cloth masks to small businesses and families in Centre County during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    See Full Article
  • Gravitational waves detected on April 25, 2019, by the LIGO Livingston Observatory were likely produced by a collision of two neutron stars, according to a new study by an international team including Penn State researchers. IGC members Patrick Godwin, Ryan Magee, B. Sathyaprakash and Surabhi Suchdev explain why this discovery is so exciting. See Full Article
  • Eberly College of Science 2020 Frontiers of Science Lecture Series entitled “Predicting the Future Improving Lives and Communities through Modeling” The series will consist of 6 public lectures, held on consecutive Saturdays in 101 Thomas Building at the University Park Campus.
    • January 18: “Statistics and the future of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Murali Haran (Statistics, Penn State)
    • January 25: “Predicting the future of plant diversity: New applications for digitized herbarium data,” Pamela Soltis (Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida)
    • February 1: “Understanding wildlife connectivity and disease spread through GPS tracking,” Ephraim Hanks (Statistics, Penn State)
    • February 8: “Characterizing potentially habitable planets,” Eric Ford (Astronomy and Astrophysics, Penn State)
    • February 15: “Disease outbreak control: Harnessing the power of multiple models to work smarter, not harder,” Katriona Shea (Ecology, Penn State)
    • February 22: “Predicting Mutation and Disease Occurrence from DNA and Omics Data,” Kateryna Makova (Biology, Penn State)
  • Galactic gamma-ray sources revel birthplaces of high-energy particles (Mostafa) – January 2020
    See Full Article
  • Emily Rolfe Grosholz, Edwin Earle Sparks Professor and member of the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, will offer a poetry reading on Thursday, January 30 at 7:30 PM in the Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium. Dr. Grosholz’s most recent collections The Stars of Earth: New and Selected Poems(2017) and Great Circles: The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry (2018) “showcase her larger interests in the intersections between philosophy, mathematics, science and language.”
  • Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory’s LIGO) Livingston detector has made a lone discovery of what could possibly be a binary neutron star collision. This detection was made possible by the GSTLAL online software developed by faculty and postdocs at the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. The total mass of the binary is significantly larger than all such systems we know in our galaxy and challenging astrophysical models of the formation of binary black holes. Full article
  • Penn State’s Bianchi, Gupta and Sathyaprakash were coauthors of a paper that was awarded second prize of the annual Buchalter Cosmology prize announced at the AAS meeting in Hawaii in early January. The prize recognizes their work on the possible origin of LIGO’s black holes in the very early Universe, offering quantum origin of their small spins.
    Full article
  • IGC’s Rachael Huxford was co-author of one of the most-read publications in The Physics Teacher of the American Association of Physics Teachers. The paper describes a demonstration on classroom simulation of gravitational waves from orbiting binaries. Popular demonstrations commonly use stretched spandex fabric to illustrate the way in which curved spacetime mimics the force of gravity in general relativity. In this spirt, Huxford and co-authors used a similar mode to illustrate gravitational waves from orbiting binaries, whose discovery was recognized with the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. They developed a simple and inexpensive demonstration which produces the pattern of outgoing spiral ripples that has entered the public imagination through images from numerical simulations.
    Full article