Pakistani professor among those who proved Einstein right

WEB DESK: Karachi-born astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala is a member of the team of scientists that announced the scientific milestone of detecting gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesised by physicist Albert Einstein a century ago.

Mavalvala, who is Associate Department Head of Physics at MIT and her career spans 20 years, has published extensively in her field and has been working with MIT since 2002.

Mavalvala went to the US country as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She did her BA at Wellesley College in 1990 and a Ph.D in 1997 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Before she graduated in 1990, Berg, a faculty member, and Mavalvala had co-authored a paper in Physical Review B: Condensed Matter.

She met her mentor, Rainer Weiss, during her first year at MIT when her adviser was moving to Chicago and Mavalvala had decided not to follow him.

In 1997, Mavalvala began a 3-year postdoc at Caltech. When the observatory went up in Washington state (there is also one in Louisiana), she stayed in the high-altitude desert in Hanford for days at a stretch to get the detector ready for data runs. In 2000, she joined the team as a staff scientist.

The researchers said they detected gravitational waves coming from two black holes – extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein – that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together.

They said the waves were the product of a collision between two black holes 30 times as massive as the Sun, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

“We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy,” MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said in an interview. “We have turned on a new sense. We have been able to see and now we will be able to hear as well.”