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Northwestern University

April 2018



Computational Research Day: April 10, 2018

Computational Research Day is an annual all-day symposium which brings together Northwestern students, faculty, and researchers across fields and disciplines to share and promote their experiences and efforts in digital research. Through a broad range of activities, topics such as research reproducibility in computational science, data management and data science challenges, research communication, and much more are explored.

CIERA participated broadly:

  • Astronomy graduate student Alex Gurvich was among three winners of the Data Visualization Challenge. He won for Best Animation with “Stellar Feedback vs. Galaxy Formation”, a high resolution animation of a simulation of stellar feedback and resulting galaxy formation with three varied results side by side. (Click the image above, left to watch the animation on YouTube.)

  • Shane Larson, Associate Director of CIERA and Research Associate Professor, gave one of the two keynotes of the day, titled “At Home in a Storm of Stars: Observing, Simulating, and Pondering the Milky Way Galaxy.”

  • Professor Giles Novak gave a talk, titled “Balloon-borne Observations of the Birth of Stars and Planets in Magnetized Galactic Clouds.”

  • Michelle Paulsen, Director of Education, Outreach, and Communications Programs, helped lead a “Birds of a Feather” session on effectively communicating research.

  • Aaron Geller, Research Assistant Professor and Senior Interactive Visualization Specialist, and Adam Miller, CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow, instructed a workshop called “Bayesian Model Fitting in Python with emcee.”

  • Graduate student Kyle Kremer presented a lightning talk, titled “Globular Clusters as Laboratories for Black Hole Astrophysics.”

  • Sponsored by CIERA and NICO, the poster session included the following astronomy students:
    Josh Fixelle (3rd Place Award): Stellar Mass Black Hole - Star Collisions with Smoothed-Particle Hydrodynamics
    Alex Gurvich: Studying Star Formation Using High-Resolution Numerical Simulations of Galaxy Formation
    Michael Katz (2nd Place Award): Probing Massive Black Hole Populations and Their Environments with LISA
    Kyle Kremer: Dynamical Formation of Black Hole Binaries in Globular Clusters
    Shi Ye: How Black Holes Shape Globular Clusters

Read the Office for Research's coverage of Computational Research Day 2018.

Northwestern Computational Research Day is hosted by Northwestern Information Technology and sponsored by Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Kellogg School of Management, Feinberg School of Medicine, Office for Research, The Graduate School, Northwestern University Library, CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics), and NICO (Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems). Corporate sponsors are Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the PIER Group and Lenovo.


Nature Astronomy Perspective: Professor Faucher-Giguère on Progress & Challenges in Galaxy Formation Simulation Field

The Galaxy Formation Group at Northwestern has played an important role in several of the significant developments in the field these past five years. In a new article in Nature Astronomy, Prof. Faucher-Giguère discusses tradeoffs between simulations that model very large cosmic volumes and ones that have very high resolution. He summarizes recent progress in the field, with an emphasis on major recent developments in both large-volume and high-resolution simulations. He also highlights some key areas (both in physics modeling and in high-performance computing) likely to drive further advances over the next decade.

Prof. Faucher-Giguère explains, “Galaxy formation simulations are essential for a wide range of scientific applications in astrophysics and cosmology, from studying the emergence of galaxy populations from the Big Bang, to problems including the formation of stars and black holes, to constraining the nature of dark matter and dark energy.”

Continue to the paper in Nature Astronomy, 'Recent progress in simulating galaxy formation from the largest to the smallest scales'.
Learn more about galaxy formation research at Northwestern.


March 2018



CIERA Hosts Workshop on Radio Astronomy

In her capacity as an ALMA Ambassador, postdoc Deanne Coppejans hosted a regional workshop for 20 astronomers on March 29. The workshop provided an overview of radio astronomy fundamentals and how to apply for observing time on ALMA, the most sensitive telescope in the world at mm and sub-mm wavelengths. Built in partnership by over 25 countries and located in Chile, ALMA stands for the “Atacama Large Millimeter Array”.

The workshop was designed for astronomers with little to no experience with radio astronomy or with ALMA. In particular, an aim of the workshop was to teach theorists who have little to no experience in observational astronomy essential knowledge for interpreting radio data and how to design radio experiments and/or apply for observing time.

The workshop was sponsored by the North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC) through the ALMA Ambassadors program.

Image credit: ESO/C. Malin


Embassy of Greece Interviews CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera

“Our discussion with Professor Kalogera took place while she was waiting for a vacant space at Northwestern’s parking lot,” begins the Newsmaker of the Month feature interview in the March 2018 newsletter from the Embassy of Greece.

“Teaching duties were calling her and time was precious. But she was able to squeeze with great clarity and simplicity information on the magical ‘cosmos’ of astrophysics, family values and extrovert ideas on how to further enhance scientific excellence back in the homeland, where she acquired her first degree in Physics from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. By the time a parking space became available, an enjoyable interview was ready to be delivered to our readers.”

Continue to the full interview.


Chandra Director Belinda Wilkes Presents CIERA Interdisciplinary Colloquium

On March 22, the Director of the Chandra X-ray Center Belinda Wilkes presented Revealing the Invisible Universe to an audience of about 75. She discussed the wealth of X-ray data gathered since the late 1990s and the discoveries it has led to. Supported by NASA’s fleet of Great Observatories, X-ray research has become common across the astronomical community.

Dr. Wilkes discussed X-ray data as part of the current multi-messenger approach to astronomical study, and she looked into the future of our observatories and the X-ray discipline beyond Chandra.

Stay tuned for more CIERA Interdisciplinary Colloquia.

Click pictures to view larger images.


February 2018



CIERA Graduate Students Host Field Trip for Girls 4 Science

On Saturday, February 3, 2018, CIERA hosted a group from Girls 4 Science, a Chicago based nonprofit “dedicated to exposing girls, ages 10-18 years old, to (STEM) science, technology, engineering and math.”

A total of 95 girls attended the event, where they were split into three groups for various structured activities. Graduate student Aprajita Hajela took groups on a tour of Dearborn Observatory, where they were able to learn about the different types of telescopes astronomers use for research. Graduate student Eve Chase lead a talk discussing celestial orbit, and facilitated a game where the girls could simulate solar systems composed of celestial bodies of varying mass and volume. Graduate student Katie Breivik gave informative talk about the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves, briefly discussing what gravitational waves are, Einstein’s original theory, and the technology behind the discovery.

Click pictures to view larger images.


Professor Claude-André Faucher-Giguère Named Cottrell Scholar

Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) has named two-dozen top early career academic scientists as 2018 Cottrell Scholars.

The designation comes with a $100,000 award for each recipient for research and teaching, for a total of $2.4 million.

“The Cottrell Scholar (CS) program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards,” said RCSA President and CEO Daniel Linzer.

Continue to the full RCSA press release.
Learn more about galaxy formation research at Northwestern.
Read the Office for Research news story.


January 2018



CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera Named Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor

On January 31, 2018, at the Allen Center, Northwestern University Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph hosted an investiture ceremony honoring the new academic appointments of Weinberg’s endowed chair holders. Among those introduced was CIERA director Vicky Kalogera, who was named the Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. Vicky came to Northwestern in 2001 as an assistant professor and previously held the title E. O. Haven Professor of Physics & Astronomy.

Each of the new named professors was introduced by their department chairs and gave a talk about their careers and inspirations. A reception concluded the event.

Click pictures to view larger images.
Professor Kalogera with Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph and Physics & Astronomy Department Chair Michael Schmitt. Professor Dave Meyer and Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor Vicky Kalogera. President Morty Schapiro, Professor Kalogera, Professor Fred Rasio, and former Provost Dan Linzer.

All Images Credited to: Genie Lemieux from Evanston Photographic


CIERA REU Students Present at 231st Meeting of the AAS

This January, seven students from CIERA’s summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program presented posters on their research projects at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland. Directed by Assistant Research Professor Aaron Geller, the REU program focuses on connections between astrophysics and other disciplines within CIERA. Students learn computer programming, develop skills in science communication, take field trips, and benefit from career panels in addition to collaborating with faculty on research projects.

The winter meeting of the AAS is the largest gathering of American astronomers each year and includes many opportunities for networking. The students presented the following posters:

José Flores (adviser: Claude-André Faucher-Giguère)
Time Scales of Different Star Formation Rate Indicators Using FIRE Galaxy Simulations
Nakul Gangoli (adviser: André de Gouvêa)
Finding Mass Constraints Through Third Neutrino Mass Eigenstate Decay
Keith Hermanek (adviser: Fred Rasio)
“Blue Stragglers and their Relationship to Black Holes in Globular Clusters”
Natalia Obrzut (adviser: Magdalena Osburn)
Cultivation of the Deep Subsurface Microbial Communities
Monica Rizzo (advisers: Chris Pankow and Vicky Kalogera)
Equation of State Effects on BHNS Merger Ejecta
Jennifer Ruda (adviser: Daniel Abrams)
Using Synchrony to Describe the Formation of Astrophysical Systems
Candice Stauffer (adviser: Raffaella Margutti)
Deep limits on the X-ray and radio emission from the nearby Type Iax SN 2014dt2

Learn more about CIERA’s NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.


New theory by CIERA Lindheimer Post-doctoral Fellow Alex Richings Predicts that Molecules are Born in Black Hole Winds

The existence of large numbers of molecules in winds powered by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies has puzzled astronomers since they were discovered more than a decade ago. Molecules trace the coldest parts of space, and black holes are the most energetic phenomena in the universe, so finding molecules in black hole winds was like discovering ice in a furnace.

Astronomers questioned how anything could survive the heat of the energetic outflows, but a new theory from researchers in CIERA predicts that these molecules are not survivors at all, but brand-new molecules, born in the winds with unique properties that enable them to adapt to and thrive in the hostile environment.

Continue to the full Northwestern News story.
The paper, “The origin of fast molecular outflows in quasars: molecule formation in AGN-driven galactic winds” was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera Wins 2018 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics

Vicky Kalogera has been awarded the 2018 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics for her groundbreaking work studying compact objects -- including black holes, neutron stars and white dwarfs -- in astrophysical systems.

The award, administered by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS), cites Kalogera’s “fundamental contributions to advancing our understanding of the evolution and fate of compact objects in binary systems, with particular regard to their electromagnetic and gravitational wave signals.”

Continue to the full Northwestern News announcement.
Go to the news release from the AIP (American Institute of Physics).
View a listing of past recipients of the Heineman Prize for Astrophysics.


Black Hole Breakthrough: New Insight into Mysterious Jets by CIERA Professor Sasha Tchekhovskoy

Through first-of-their-kind supercomputer simulations, researchers have gained new insight into one of the most mysterious phenomena in modern astronomy: the behavior of relativistic jets that shoot from black holes, extending outward across millions of light years.

Advanced simulations created with one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers show the jets’ streams gradually change direction in the sky, or process, as a result of space-time being dragged into the rotation of the black hole. This behavior aligns with Albert Einstein’s predictions about extreme gravity near rotating black holes, published in his famous theory of general relativity.

“Understanding how rotating black holes drag the space-time around them and how this process affects what we see through the telescopes remains a crucial, difficult-to-crack puzzle,” said Alexander Tchekhovskoy, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Fortunately, the breakthroughs in code development and leaps in supercomputer architecture are bringing us ever closer to finding the answers.”

Continue on to the full Northwestern News article.
Read the paper, "Formation of precessing jets by tilted black hole discs in 3D general relativistic MHD simulations".

Additional Coverage in:
Sky News, "Supercomputer provides black hole breakthrough".
IBTimes, "Black Hole Burps Wiggle Around In Space Like Spinning Tops" by Elana Glowatz.
The Independent (UK), "Mysterious ‘relativistic jets’ that shoot from black holes simulated in lab " by Josh Gabbatiss.
EarthSky, "Supercomputer insights on mysterious black hole jets" by Deborah Byrd.


Astronomy from the Stratosphere: New Research by CIERA Postdoc Fabio Santos

Understanding how stars and planets are created is one of the main challenges of modern astronomy. The study of stellar birth is one of the key science goals for HAWC+, a new camera operating on the SOFIA airborne observatory (NASA/DLR). HAWC+ was designed to study the oscillation pattern of infrared light waves, a property known as polarization. This property can be used to map with a great level of detail the magnetic fields across large clouds of dust and gas which are the birthplaces of stars and planets. Magnetic fields are a crucial piece of the puzzle because the field strength and geometry can affect how quickly new stars and planets are formed, as well as determining the stellar masses and the architectures of the corresponding planetary systems.

In new research by CIERA Postoctoral Fellow Fabio Santos, he investigated Rho Ophiuchi, one of the closest stellar nurseries to our Solar System - only about 420 light-years away. The image above shows a detailed view of the magnetic field geometry in the central parts of the cloud. For the first time, Santos and his collaborators observed systematic variations across the cloud of the polarization as a function of infrared wavelengths, a property known as the polarization spectrum. These variations are in agreement with a model known as Radiative Torques, or RATs, that explains how dust particles become magnetically aligned within interstellar clouds. Testing such models is critical for understanding the role of magnetic fields in star formation.

Northwestern Professor Giles Novak explains, “SOFIA polarimetry is opening completely new windows on the universe - windows that Fabio and his collaborators are exploiting to probe the physics of magnetic grain alignment with fundamental implications for star formation studies.”

Tune in at minute 15:18 of the AAS press conference video for Fabio Santos.
After following link, click on "Press Conference: Astronomy from the Stratosphere (Tuesday, 9 January, 10:15 am EST)"

Read the BBC News article, “Flying telescope yields insights into birth of stars” by Paul Rincon.

Additional Coverage by:
NASA, "Astronomy from the Stratosphere: Results from NASA’s SOFIA Airborne Telescope".
Astronomy, "The 231st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society: Day 1" by Allison Klesman.


December 2017



CIERA Researchers Highlight Their Expertise in Seven Minutes or Less

On December 6, 2017, CIERA graduate students Alex Gurvich and Michael Katz joined ten other presentors from seven different departments to showcase their skills in public speaking at the bi-annual event: “Seven Minutes of Science.” Seven Minutes of Science is the culmination of 10-weeks of practice and coaching, where the individuals present on their complex research to a general audience within a seven-minute time frame.

Alex’s presentation was titled Exploring the Invisible Universe with Computer Simulations, while Michael’s talk was called Listening for Colliding Black Holes.

The event is organized by the RSG program, in association with CIERA’s data-science program, Integrated Data-Driven Discovery in Earth and Astrophysical Science (IDEAS). A shared goal of both programs is to increase awareness for the need of excellent science communicators, and to coach researchers to improve their presentation skills.

Click pictures to view larger images.


Professor Yusef-Zadeh: Infant Stars Surprisingly Near Galaxy’s Supermassive Black Hole

At the center of our galaxy, in the immediate vicinity of its supermassive black hole, is a region wracked by powerful tidal forces and bathed in intense ultraviolet light and X-ray radiation. These harsh conditions, astronomers long surmised, do not favor star formation, especially low-mass stars like our sun.

New observations from the international astronomy facility ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) suggest otherwise, according to newly published findings, led by Northwestern University astronomer Farhad Yusef-Zadeh.

Continue to the full Northwestern News story.
View the paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Additional Coverage:
AAS Nova: “Forming Stars Near Our Supermassive Black Hole" by Susanna Kohler.
Sky & Telescope: “Infant Stars Huddle near Black Hole" by Camille Carlisle.

Cover photo credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Yusef-Zadeh et al.; B.Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)


November 2017



CIERA Astronomers Share Stories of Scientific Discovery at Neutron Star Merger Event

Professors Vicky Kalogera, Shane Larson, Raffaella Margutti and Wen-fai Fong welcomed an audience of about 200 for a science talk and moderated panel discussion on November 28 titled “Peering into the Cosmic Maelstrom”. The faculty described their roles and experiences in the making of the ground-breaking first-ever observation of a binary neutron star inspiral and merger, announced October 16.

The event was introduced by Northwestern Vice President for Research Jay Walsh, and the panel discussion and audience question period was moderated by Adler Planetarium President, Michelle Larson.

Read the CIERA News Story about the discovery.

View the panel discussion:

Check out CIERA's YouTube channel for the full lecture, including audience questions.

Click pictures to view larger images.


Cosmos in Concert: Celestial Suite

On November 18, graduate student Kyle Kremer welcomed 400 astronomy and classical music enthusiasts in Pick-Staiger concert hall for Celestial Suite, a multimedia show for symphony orchestra combining astronomy visuals, narration, and live classical music. The music was composed by James Stephenson and the visuals and narrative address were developed by Kyle. After the concert, the audience enjoyed a faculty panel discussion about the intersection of art and science.

The concert program:
"Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland
"Song to the Moon" from Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak
"Celestial Suite" by James Stephenson

The show was sponsored by ETOPiA, CIERA, ASG Wild Ideas, and The Graduate School. Through multimedia shows, in-school residencies, and public outreach events, Cosmos in Concert introduces a new platform for science education and outreach.

Learn more about Kyle Kremer’s Cosmos in Concert initiative and ETOPiA.

View performance on YouTube:


Graduate Student Eve Chase Leads Data Analysis of New Gravitational Wave Detection

At 11:00pm on June 7, 2017, Eve Chase was preparing for a final exam when she received an email that LIGO, the tandem observatories set to listen for gravitational waves emitted by cosmic events, had detected yet another binary black hole merger. Since that moment, Eve, a second-year doctoral student at Northwestern, devoted her efforts to studying the event, becoming the youngest person in the over 1,000 world-wide LIGO-Virgo collaboration of scientists to lead the analysis (called “parameter estimation”) of one of LIGO’s chirps.

LIGO heard GW170608 during its second observation run, “O2”. Parameter estimation tasks were split for O2, meaning that researchers, including Eve and other LIGO team members at Northwestern, volunteered to be on call for 2-week intervals during the run and take the lead on the analysis of any signals detected during their period. When Eve volunteered, she was assigned a date range and paired with Patricia Schmidt, a postdoctoral researcher from Radboud University, the Netherlands. On June 8th, Eve stayed up until 2:00am, focusing on the new signal she just learned of, until Dr. Schmidt awoke on the other side of the world. Eve and Dr. Schmidt have talked every day since then, and the world over, they are the experts on this event.

Eve and Dr. Schmidt were significant contributors to the new paper by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations describing GW170608. Eve wrote an email to notify the electromagnetic partner scientists (including those at Northwestern) about GW170608. Over the past few months, Eve has presented during world-wide teleconferences to help researchers understand this binary black hole merger.

GW170608 was detected by LIGO Livingston. LIGO Hanford had just come back online after a couple of weeks’ work to improve its mirrors. Hanford heard the signal, too, but the mirror testing produced a lot of noise. (Virgo, the third gravitational wave observatory on Earth, had not yet joined the O2 observing run, and was not part of this analysis.) LIGO scientists have become better at understanding and mitigating noise, bringing us closer to the underlying astrophysical message of the event. Adding to the population of binary black hole systems available for study will let Eve and her colleagues begin to understand how these systems form. This particular system has the lowest mass of the known population and it contains black holes at masses comparable to those found in low-mass X-ray binaries.

Eve will be presenting a talk about GW170608 at the January 2018 meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Read the news release from the LIGO Lab.
Find the paper: GW170608: Observation of a 19-Solar-Mass Black Hole Coalescence.
Read more in "Gravitational-Wave Detector Catches Lightest Black Hole Smashup Yet" by Calla Cofield for


Top Telescope Access for CIERA Researchers

Northwestern is known for its strength in theoretical astrophysics, and now it is poised to lead in observational astronomy as well. CIERA recently signed contracts to secure institutional access to the Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT) in Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Both observatories have unique and complementary capabilities. MMT has the ability to target and refocus quickly, which is important for fast-changing celestial phenomena called transients. Keck, on the other hand, has a larger collecting area which allows researchers to explore older and fainter signals.

Prior to the new telescope contracts, NU astronomers did not have guaranteed access to the MMT, Keck, or any other research-grade observational facility. Now, Northwestern researchers are guaranteed an allotment of time per year to collect data. This is a significant commitment to and expansion of observational capabilities at Northwestern. CIERA will now have the ability to train students in observational astronomy with world-class facilities. Researchers will have more freedom with their projects because of the removal of the observatory time application process; guaranteed time allows researchers to take on more high-risk, high-reward projects.

With access to two of the leading telescopes in the world, the observational astronomers at CIERA have the ability to thrive and conduct research in exciting new areas, connecting theoretical research to observational data.

Learn more about telescope access at CIERA.


CIERA Professor Mel Ulmer Receives Director's Innovation Initiative Grant

Professor Ulmer will receive funds from the National Reconnaissance Office for a project called DOMinATE (Deployable Optical MembrAne Telescope). DOMinATE is a spin-off of Ulmer’s NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project called APERTURE, with applications to CubeSats using an innovative material for the substrate, called shape memory alloys (SMAs). A CubeSat is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is made up of multiples of 10×10×10 cm cubic units.

Collaborators on the project come from the University of Central Florida for the SMA development and the University of Miami for CubeSat considerations. The NIAC Program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform the future of NASA missions.

View an animation of the APERTURE telescope conceptual design.
Learn more about Professor Ulmer’s NIAC APERTURE award.


Greg Lauglin and Dan Tamayo Present CIERA Interdisciplinary Colloquia

In an effort to increase our cross-discipline collaborations with researchers from many institutions in fields beyond astronomy, CIERA has begun holding talks in our CIERA Interdisciplinary Colloquia series more often.

On November 2, Yale University’s Greg Laughlin presented Poincaré's Legacy: Predictions on Time Scales Ranging from Milliseconds to Billions of Years to an audience of about 75. He discussed two long-standing, and at first glance entirely unrelated, problems of prediction: (1) the long-term dynamical stability of the Solar System, and (2) price movements and volatility in financial markets.

On December 1, we co-hosted Dan Tamayo with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Dan is from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics and presented A Million-fold Speedup in the Dynamical Characterization of Multi-planet Systems to an interdisciplinary audience of approximately 40 people.

Stay tuned for more CIERA Interdisciplinary Colloquia.


“Black Hole Encounter” by CIERA Postdoc Aaron Geller Sweeps 2017 Scientific Images Contest

On November 2, Science in Society announced the winners of the 2017 Northwestern Scientific Images Contest. The winners were announced during an exhibition launch and reception held at Evanston Township High School (ETHS).

Aaron Geller, an astronomer with a joint appointment in CIERA and the Adler Planetarium, swept both 1st place and the People’s Choice Award with his computer simulation of a dense star cluster. (The People’s Choice Award is voted on by the students of ETHS.) Geller has participated in the contest and related outreach activities for the past few years, but this is the first time he’s come in first place.

“Astronomy is a great entry point into science, and through engaging the public with astronomy we can share a love of science, the scientific method, and the drive to think critically about our world,” said Geller.

Continue to the full Science in Society article.
Learn about the Scientific Images Contest, which includes public engagement opportunities and gallery displays of the winning images throughout the Chicagoland area.


October 2017



CIERA Affiliate Member Magdalena Osburn Named Packard Fellow

Magdalena R. Osburn, a Northwestern University geobiologist who studies ancient and modern microbes, has been awarded a 2017 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The prestigious fellowship includes an unrestricted research grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue innovative and experimental research.

The foundation named Osburn and 17 others as the nation’s most innovative, early-career scientists and engineers. These young professors are tackling some of the critical scientific questions of our time and promise to have a big impact not just on their fields but also on the students working with them.

Continue to the full Northwestern News article.


CIERA REU Student José Flores Wins Best Poster Presentation at 2017 SACNAS Conference

At the 2017 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference (October 19-21 in Salt Lake City, Utah), Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student José Flores won best poster presentation. His poster was titled Time Scales of Different Star Formation Rate Indicators Using FIRE Star Formation Histories. The annual SACNAS meeting is the largest multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity conference in the country.

SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM.

José is a Physics & Astronomy major and Math minor at Cal Poly Pomona. He presented research he developed during the summer of 2017 as part of the CIERA REU program, working with his advisor, Professor Claude-André Faucher-Giguère.

Visit José Flores' web site.
View José's award winning poster.
Learn about the NSF-funded CIERA Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.


Cosmologist Prof. Wendy Freedman Presents CIERA Annual Public Lecture

On October 5, 2017 at 7:30pm, CIERA held its annual public lecture at Cahn auditorium. This year, we welcomed Wendy Freedman from the University of Chicago’s’ Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, who presented to an audience of about 300.

Her talk, “The Unexpected Universe: Astronomical Telescopes Continue to Reveal New Surprises,” discussed the future of telescopes and how they will revolutionize the discovery of celestial bodies throughout the universe. One telescope in particular, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), is being built in the Andes Mountains in Chile. The GMT is the first telescope of its kind—with the sensitivity up to 20 million times of that of the human eye. Freedman explained how this telescope will allow astronomers to see “the first light in the universe,” and may have the capability of spotting life on planets outside of our solar system. Wendy Freedman initiated the GMT project and will help reveal the telescope in 2018.

Read the article by the Office for Research.
Learn more about Wendy Freedman and the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Click pictures to view larger images.


CIERA’s Shane Larson Joins U.S. NASA LISA Study Team

CIERA Associate Director and Research Professor Shane Larson has been named to the NASA LISA Study Team. LISA, the "Laser Interferometer Space Antenna," is a space-based detector that will be jointly flown by NASA and the European Space Agency near the end of the next decade.

The NASA LISA Study Team was established by NASA HQ in October 2017 to assist the U.S. community in preparing for the 2020 astrophysics Decadal Survey and provide input to the Study Office and NASA HQ on the LISA mission. It consists of independent U.S. scientists with expertise in gravitational wave technologies, signal analysis, and astrophysics.


Graduate Student Katie Breivik Wins Blue Apple Prize at MRM

The 27th Midwest Relativity Meeting was held October 12-14, 2017, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This meeting brings together researchers from across the Midwest and beyond to discuss General Relativity and a broad range of topics in gravitational physics.

Astronomy graduate student Katie Breivik won the Blue Apple Prize for the best student talk, out of nearly 40 presentations. Her talk was titled, “Revealing the Milky Way's black hole population with Gaia.”

Congratulations, Katie!


CIERA Astronomers Help Detect Colliding Neutron Stars for the First Time

Vicky Kalogera with fellow NSF panelist David Reitze, LIGO Lab Executive Director and Northwestern Physics Alumnus (’83). Learn more about David Reitze.

On October 16, 2017, scientists announced the first-ever observation of a binary neutron star inspiral and merger—this astronomical event will provide a powerful new way to understand the lives of stars and how they die and join the galactic graveyard.

Vicky Kalogera, CIERA Director and Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, served as lead astrophysicist on the panel at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) press conference announcing the discovery.

Anticipated by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) for more than 20 years, this merger represents the first joint detection of an astronomical event using two astronomical observing techniques: gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation. Together these approaches are known as "multi-messenger astronomy". Gravitational waves were the subject of 2017's Nobel Prize in Physics, and multi-messenger astronomy was named one of the NSF's 10 Big Ideas for future scientific investment. Northwestern is currently one of the few universities in the world with expertise on both sides of this cutting-edge field.

Watch the full press conference, featuring Vicky Kalogera.

Learn more from CIERA researcher interviews at Northwestern's LIGO Media Gallery.
Go "Behind the Scenes" as Vicky Kalogera prepares to share this groundbreaking news at the NSF Press Conference.
Read the Northwestern News story for more details on this exciting discovery, and watch Vicky Kalogera's NN TV interview.
View the Northwestern Special Feature, for videos, podcast, and featuring CIERA astronomers involved in the discovery!
Listen to Vicky Kalogera discuss the merger on Science Friday:

Join us on November 28, 2017 at a Round Table discussion for an insider's view of the discovery.

These collected news stories contain quotes and interviews from various CIERA/Northwestern researchers involved in the multi-messenger detection.


2017 Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to Gravitational-wave Scientists Barish, Thorne, and Weiss

Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rai (Rainer) Weiss received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics October 3rd for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves. Thorne and Weiss are previous CIERA Annual Public Lecturers.

“I was so much hoping for this wonderful news,” said Vicky Kalogera, gravitational-wave astrophysicist and Director of CIERA at Northwestern University, who contributed to the historic detections of gravitational waves. “My Northwestern colleagues and I warmly congratulate Rai, Kip and Barry on this recognition. The discovery of black-hole mergers and the detection of gravitational waves never would have happened without these creative scientists.”

Gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime, were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 and are a new way of observing the universe. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration has detected gravitational waves four times – first, on Sept. 14, 2015, and most recently, on Aug. 14, 2017. All four signals detected so far were created by colliding black holes.

Moving forward, astronomers are working on methods for combining gravitational wave data and electromagnetic data to study cosmic sources. The National Science Foundation named this new technique, called multi-messenger astronomy, one of the top six ideas to pursue in the future. Multi-messenger astronomy holds the answers to untold astronomical questions, including how the universe was formed.

“Rai, Kip and Barry launched the LIGO project decades ago and worked very hard to confirm Einstein’s theory,” said Kalogera, the Linzer Distinguished University Professor in Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “I am so proud to have had the opportunity to learn from them since my years as a young researcher. Rai and Kip especially were influential in my decision to join the LIGO Scientific Collaboration at a time when most ‘traditional’ astronomers were advising me against it. I have grown through their advice and support and will always be grateful for what they have achieved for science and the younger generation of scientists.”

A Ligo Scientific Collaboration (LSC) member for more than 15 years, Kalogera is LSC’s most senior astrophysicist. She leads Northwestern’s LSC group, which includes Shane L. Larson, CIERA associate director and a research associate professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern, and Selim Shahriar, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. Larson and Shahriar also have been mentored over the years by Weiss or Thorne. Eleven postdoctoral fellows and graduate and undergraduate students also are members of the Northwestern group.

Learn more about the first gravitational-wave detections and Northwestern’s role in the discoveries:


September 2017



CIERA Researchers Contribute to Record-setting Gravitational Wave Detection

The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) and the Virgo collaboration announced today (Sept. 27) the first joint detection, made on August 14, of gravitational waves with both LIGO and Virgo detectors. It is the fourth announced detection of a binary black hole system and the first significant gravitational-wave signal recorded by the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy.

“This discovery is the first one made with three detectors -- two in the U.S. and a third across the ocean in Italy. As such, it is especially significant. This first-ever triple detection allows us to localize where the event occurred, so our research partners in observational astronomy can more accurately scan the sky to look for electromagnetic counterparts. This type of multi-messenger information will be key for solving the great cosmic puzzles. All pieces are needed,” says CIERA’s Director, Professor Vicky Kalogera.

Shane Larson, CIERA’s Associate Director, explains, “Gravitational wave astronomy isn't like telescope astronomy. We've always known that our ability to map sources on the sky will get better as more detectors join the network, and Virgo has shown us what a difference it makes with a bang!"

Read LIGO’s news release. Continue to Shane Larson’s blog post about the triple event.

Additional Coverage:
CNET: "New gravitational wave reaches Earth, three detectors notice" by Amanda Kooser.

LIGO is funded by the NSF, and operated by Caltech and MIT, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,200 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. Additional partners are listed at The Virgo collaboration consists of more than 280 physicists and engineers belonging to 20 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in The Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with the University of Valencia; and EGO, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

Image Credit: LIGO/Virgo/NASA/Leo Singer/Axel Mellinger


Unique Supernova Revealed by CIERA Postdoc Giacomo Terreran

In a new study published in Nature Astronomy, CIERA postdoctoral associate Giacomo Terreran discusses a highly unusual supernova. The object, called OGLE14-073, is more luminous, richer in hydrogen, slower to evolve, 10 times more energetic, and ejected more material than typical objects in its class.

Interviewed by Marco Galliani for Media INAF, Terreran explains, “OGLE14-073 is a unique object and we are still investigating possible exploding scenarios. When it was classified, OGLE14-073 appeared just like a boring type II supernova as hundreds are identified each year. However, it soon revealed its extraordinary character. In the future, with the advent of the next generation of telescopes, many more objects similar to OGLE14-073 will be likely discovered. We hope to be able to find them soon after explosion, with more targeted follow-up campaigns, with the aim to be able to understand what is the mechanism responsible to make explode such massive stars with such a high energy.”

Read Hydrogen-rich supernovae beyond the neutrino-driven core-collapse paradigm, in Nature Astronomy.


CIERA Postdoc Fabio Antonini Finds that Many LIGO Sources Arise from Mergers at the Centers of Galaxies

The first direct observation of merging black holes by Advanced LIGO opened a new window to our Universe. The new set of data from these detectors will provide important clues about the properties and formation of neutron stars and black holes and about the environment in which they form. But a better understanding of the processes that lead to the merger of black holes is needed in order to make sense of the large data set anticipated in the coming years.

Massive stars are very social: they are often found accompanied by one or more close friends. It is not surprising therefore that the evolution of massive binary stars in the outskirts of galaxies has been suggested as the main channel for the formation of the merging black holes observed by LIGO. Massive stars are also commonly found at the center of galaxies, including the Milky Way, and dynamical processes in such environments could also cause black holes to merge.

Unlike the stellar binaries in the field, the binaries in the galactic center feel strong gravitational perturbations from their neighboring stars and the super massive black holes sitting at the center. CIERA postdoctoral fellow Fabio Antonini and his colleague at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, Cristobal Petrovich, have modeled the dynamics of these binaries and realized that massive stars will quite often undergo a chaotic dance that ends with a merger by gravitational wave radiation. Surprisingly, this chaotic dance is effective enough that it can explain a significant fraction of the LIGO observations. This suggests that the galactic nuclei are privileged places in the galaxies for stellar mass black holes to merge.

Read the blog post by Cristobal Petrovich about the project.
Read the paper, Greatly Enhanced Merger Rates of Compact-object Binaries in Non-spherical Nuclear Star Clusters.


Graduate Student Eve Chase Wins Best Poster Award at LSC-Virgo Meeting

At the LSC-Virgo September Meeting near Geneva, Switzerland, graduate student Eve Chase won the best poster award in the Data Analysis/Theory category.

The meeting took place August 28 - September 1, 2017 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) is a collaboration of international physics institutes and research groups dedicated to the search for gravitational waves. Virgo is an interferometer gravitational wave detector in Pisa, Italy.

Eve is a second-year astronomy graduate student who is part of Vicky Kalogera’s group. Eve studies computational and data analysis techniques related to gravitational wave astronomy. Her poster, titled "Gravitational-Wave Localization in the LSST Era,” focused on using the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope to search for electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational waves. Eve took home 150 Swiss Francs as her prize.

Co-authors on Eve’s project include Sam Imperato and Monica Rizzo (along with Chris Pankow, Scott Coughlin and Vicky Kalogera, all from Northwestern). Sam is a high school student who contributed heavily to tracking improvements to GW source localization as additional detectors are commissioned. Monica Rizzo is a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She spent her summer modeling expected light curves from gravitational-wave counterparts, such as kilonovae.

Congratulations, Eve!


“Three Cosmic Chirps and Counting” by CIERA Director Vicky Kalogera

The September 2017 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine features an article by Vicky Kalogera which gives her personal and professional account of the first gravitational wave events detected by LIGO. In the article, Prof.Kalogera describes the science behind the detections, their significance and promise, as well as the excitement in the astronomy community as these phenomenal occurrences unfolded.

Access the September 2017 issue.


CIERA Welcomes New Faculty Members: Wen-Fai Fong & Sasha Tchekhovskoy

Northwestern University is in the midst of an astrophysics faculty expansion plan. With last year’s arrival of Raffaella Margutti, an expert in 'transient phenomena' such as supernovae and gamma ray bursts, Northwestern became one of the very few universities in the nation with both a LIGO research group and a transient astronomy team.

This fall, we are excited to announce two new astrophysics faculty additions at CIERA: Wen-fai Fong and Sasha Tchekhovskoy. Wen-fai's research focuses on mergers of compact objects and their environments; she chases the elusive electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational-wave sources. She will be a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow for her first year at Northwestern, before moving into her faculty role.

A former NASA Einstein Fellow, Sasha will start as an assistant professor this fall. His interests include high-energy astrophysics processes powered by compact objects, black holes, and neutron stars which he simulates using high-performance computing.

Welcome, Wen-fai and Sasha!


Announcing CIERA Director of Operations Kari Frank & Associate Director Shane Larson

We are pleased to announce our new Director of Operations, Dr. Kari Frank. Kari holds a PhD in Physics from Purdue, and is formerly a Research Associate at Penn State. Kari’s focus is X-ray observations of galaxy clusters and supernova remnants. In addition to her research, Kari has devoted time at both Purdue and Penn State to help improve the careers of graduate students and postdocs.

Welcome, Kari!

With Kari’s arrival, we wish farewell to John Everett, who served extremely capably for the past 5 years as Assistant Director and then Director of Operations for CIERA. John has taken an exciting professional opportunity in the Denver Public Schools and has moved west to pursue this, as well as to be closer to his family. We thank John and wish him all the best!

As of September 1st, Prof. Shane Larson will take on the new role of Associate Director of CIERA as half-time of his full-time position at Northwestern (transitioning from a joint position between Northwestern and the Adler Planetarium). As Associate Director (part-time), Shane will take on CIERA's growing responsibilities in the areas of public outreach, science communication, and development efforts, engaging with Northwestern Alumni and CIERA Friends.

Past News and Announcements