Astrophysicist awarded fellowship for gravitational-wave research

Laura Nuttall-600x400

A new generation of rising stars across research and business will tackle pressing global challenges through UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowships initiative

  • 23 April 2020
  • 5 min read

A University of Portsmouth astrophysicist has been awarded a prestigious fellowship, which supports early career researchers and innovators who show outstanding potential. 

Dr Laura Nuttall, from the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, has received a Future Leaders Fellowship, helping researchers and innovators become world-leaders in their field.

The initiative is funded by UK Research and Innovation to enable each fellow to tackle ambitious and challenging research and innovation, and develop their own careers.
Dr Nuttall will use the fellowship to investigate different areas of gravitational-wave astronomy - invisible ripples in space which travel at the speed of light. 

Dr Nuttall said: “Gravitational waves are emitted whenever an asymmetric object accelerates, with the strongest sources of detectable gravitational waves being from the collision of neutron stars and black holes. Both of these objects are created at the end of a massive star’s life.”

Professor David Wands

This fellowship could offer a whole new window into the universe.

Professor David Wands, Director of the Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation

There are three facilities Dr Nuttall will use to conduct her research: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) and the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observatory (GOTO).

LIGO consists of two gravitational-wave detectors which are 3,000 kilometres apart in the USA. LISA is a future space-based detector due for launch in the 2030s. GOTO is an Earth-based optical telescope.
Dr Nuttall said: “One of the latter two signals, GW170817, was particularly exciting, as prior to this observation it was just speculation that colliding neutron stars would produce an electromagnetic signal. 

“Indeed, in 2017 this binary neutron star merger was not only observed in the gravitational-wave window, but also across the electromagnetic spectrum. Over the coming years the LIGO detectors will become more sensitive, seeing deeper into the Universe and detecting many more gravitational waves.”

In this fellowship, one of the things Dr Nuttall will investigate is how the changing nature of LIGO sensitivity affects the ability to accurately measure the properties of gravitational-wave signals. She will also develop techniques to overcome periods of poor LIGO sensitivity. 

“We want to ensure that key parameters of the gravitational-wave signal, such as the sky location, masses and spins of the source, are unbiased, she said. “This is critical to allow us to point electromagnetic telescopes to the correct sky location, understand the way in which the original binary system formed and measure the equation of state of neutron stars accurately.”

Dr Nuttall’s fellowship will also look in to characterising the LISA detector, as well as hunt for electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational-wave events with GOTO.

Professor David Wands, Director of the Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation, said: “This fellowship will allow Dr Nuttall to conduct research which may have far-reaching effects on the area of gravitational-wave astronomy – it could offer a whole new window into the universe.”