Alessandra Buonanno

Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute)


Primary Section: 13, Physics
Membership Type: Member (elected 2021)
Photo Credit: A. Klaer

Biosketch

Alessandra Buonanno is a scientific director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) and head of the "Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity" department. She studied theoretical physics at the University of Pisa, and held faculty positions with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris and Laboratoire AstroParticle et Cosmologie, and then at the University of Maryland, where she became full professor in 2010. She is a leading theorist in the field of gravitational-wave physics, and a Principal Investigator of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. She is known for her work on waveform modeling, which has been essential for the detection of gravitational waves from binary systems composed of black holes and neutron stars, and the physical interpretation of the signals. For her contributions to LIGO and Virgo discoveries, she was awarded the 2018 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz prize and the 2021 Galileo Galilei medal. In 2021 she was elected member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and of the US National Academy of Sciences. She is a Fellow of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation, and of the American Physical Society.

Research Interests

In the last twenty years, Buonanno’s research has focused on the theoretical predictions of gravitational waves emitted by binary systems composed of compact objects, such as black holes and neutron stars. To achieve highly accurate waveform models, she co-developed a novel approach to study the two-body problem in General Relativity, notably the effective-one-body formalism. This approach made the first analytical prediction of the gravitational signal from a binary black-hole coalescence. Buonanno initiated and markedly contributed with her group to the successful synergistic approach of combining numerical-relativity techniques with analytical-relativity methods with the goal of developing the most accurate and efficient waveform models for gravitational-wave observations. These models are routinely employed by her group and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration to infer astrophysical, cosmological and gravitational properties. She has also pioneered studies in quantum-optical noise and high-precision measurements for gravitational-wave detectors, co-discovering that quantum correlations between photon shot noise and radiation-pressure noise (notably the optical-spring effect) can circumvent constraints imposed by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in LIGO and Virgo detectors. At present, she is interested in using gravitational-wave observations to unveil fundamental-physics information, probe the nature of black holes and gravity in the high-velocity, strong-field regime.

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