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Marc Favata writing complex equations on whiteboard.

Tales from the Dark Side of the Universe

Mathematical Sciences Professor Marc Favata has received a five-year, $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation for a research and education project that will explore ways in which gravitational waves offer a new way of looking at the universe.

Favata is a member of the international LIGO team that made history in 2015 when it detected, for the first time, gravitational waves from two black holes colliding to form one. The detection — one of the most significant physics discoveries of the past 50 years — confirmed a key prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of relativity.

The competitive CAREER award supports the research and education initiatives of faculty who are in the early stages of their careers. “I feel very humbled — and lucky — to have received this award,” says Favata.

According to Favata, LIGO’s discovery helps answer questions about the environment in which these black holes formed and how they interacted and evolved before becoming black holes. “We’re also asking, ‘Was Einstein right?’ It’s possible that as our measurements become more precise, we could find a disagreement with Einstein’s theory,” he says.

University students will be involved in project research and educational components. “They’ll help improve the ‘Sounds of Spacetime’ website that we created last year, which lets people ‘listen’ to the universe by exploring the analogy between gravitational waves and sound,” says Favata. Project funding will also support lectures and outreach efforts to educate a broader public about LIGO’s discoveries.

To listen to the universe, visit the Sounds of Spacetime website at soundsofspacetime.org.