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Penn State physicists earn second place in annual Buchalter Cosmology Prize

10 January 2020

The winners of the 2019 Buchalter Cosmology Prize were announced at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, HI, on January 6, 2020. Penn State physicists Eugenio Bianchi, Anuradha Gupta, and B.S. Sathyaprakash, along with Hal M. Haggard of Bard College and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, took second place for their work titled “Quantum gravity and black hole spin in gravitational wave observations: a test of the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy.”

"What I find most exciting about this result,” said Eugenio Bianchi, assistant professor of physics at Penn State, “is that it connects a robust theoretical prediction of quantum gravity—the statistical mechanics of black holes—to the physics of black hole formation in the early universe, with the opportunity of a test via current observations of gravitational waves. I am delighted that this work was recognized by a Buchalter Cosmology Prize."

The annual prize, created by Ari Buchalter in 2014, seeks to reward new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe. The Penn State team’s work was recognized by the judging panel as “a remarkable test of the thermodynamic character of black holes, predicting the spin characteristics of an initial primordial population of black holes that thermalize in the early universe, and which could be detectable by current and near-future gravitational wave detectors.”

“This is a highly speculative work about the primordial origin of LIGO’s black holes,” said B.S. Sathyaprakash, Elsbach Professor of Physics and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. “If confirmed by future gravitational wave observations we would have learnt something very deep about physical processes in the very early universe. I am delighted that the work has received the attention of the Buchalter committee and we are truly honored by this recognition.”

Buchalter, a former astrophysicist turned business entrepreneur, created the prize inspired by his own research and experience in cosmology, and the belief that significant breakthroughs in the field of cosmology still lie ahead, but might require challenging and breaking some paradigms accepted in the field today. “The 2019 prize winners represent bold thinking that can help open up new frontiers in our understanding of physics and of the universe,” said Buchalter.

"This is encouraging to know that our work is recognized by the Buchalter Committee,” said Anuradha Gupta, a postdoctoral research in physics at Penn State. “It will motivate us not to shy away from having bold ideas that could allow us to better explain phenomena happening in the universe."

The prestigious judging panel for the prize is comprised of leading theoretical physicists noted for their work in cosmology, including Justin Khoury of the University of Pennsylvania, Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and Mark Trodden of the University of Pennsylvania.