Published: 11 April 2017

Astrophysics researcher awarded STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowship

The award of one of the UK’s most prestigious Fellowships for early career researchers will allow Dr Fabio Antonini to spend five years in Surrey’s Department of Physics, furthering his pioneering research on black holes.

The STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowship enables young researchers with clear leadership potential to establish a strong, independent research programme at a leading UK university. Designed to attract outstanding overseas researchers to the UK, the Fellowship is highly competitive, with only 12 awarded across the UK every year.

Through the Fellowship Dr Antonini, who is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University in the US, will be funded for five years’ research within Surrey’s Department of Physics. Working closely with his host Dr Alessia Gualandris and the astrophysics group he will investigate the mechanisms behind black hole ‘binaries’ (two black holes which orbit each other) and how they dynamically form, shrink and merge. Breaking new ground, he will focus particularly on the way this process works at the centre of a galaxy, where densities are very high, potentially revealing vital clues about the way galaxies themselves form and evolve.

Dr Antonini said “We are in a similar position as Galileo when he first peered through a telescope: mankind has developed a new way to study the Universe; we can now see gravitational waves! This new set of ‘eyes’ on the Universe is expected to provide important clues to the properties of black holes and to the environments in which they form. But a proper theoretical understanding of the astrophysical processes leading to black hole coalescence is required to make sense of the large amount (hundreds to thousands) of new detections expected in the next few years from the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and other interferometers on the ground.

“My research at Surrey will help to build the link needed between astrophysics and the Advanced LIGO detections by unveiling the physical processes that lead to the formation of compact object binaries in galaxies.”

Dr Gualandris commented: “Fabio is young but has already established himself as a leader in the field of stellar and galactic dynamics. He has made major contributions to the field, identifying new processes for the formation and evolution of compact object binaries.

“The field of dynamics and gravitational waves is booming since the detection of merging black holes last year, which provided the first concrete evidence that Einstein was correct about the existence of gravitational waves. This Fellowship will enable the exploration of a very promising area within dynamics.”

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