Special Seminar

Special Seminar

Gravitational wave observations: putting Einstein to the test


February 21, 2022 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm


MS Teams


Howey N201/202



Flatiron Institute


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Abstract: Einstein's theory of general relativity is a beautiful classical theory of gravity, but nature isn’t classical. In order to fully describe the physics of the Universe, we need to reconcile general relativity (GR) with quantum mechanics in a theory of gravity beyond general relativity. Could we see beyond-GR physics with astrophysical observations? While weaker regimes of gravity have long been studied through observations of the solar system, stars, and galaxies, systems such as binary black hole and neutron star mergers probe the extreme regime of gravity, where spacetime is most highly non-linear, distorted, and dynamical, at the potential edge of Einstein's theory.

These dynamical spacetimes emit gravitational waves, ripples in space and time, which are detected by instruments like LIGO and Virgo. The waves carry information about the extreme regime of gravity around their sources including, potentially, information about the ways these spacetimes differ from those predicted by GR. In this talk, I will discuss my work in using current and future gravitational wave observations to detect and constrain beyond-GR physics, putting Einstein's theory to the test.

Bio: Maria (Masha) Okounkova (she/her), is an astrophysicist with a scientific background in computational astrophysics, numerical relativity, and gravitational wave astronomy. Since 2019, she has been a Research Fellow at the Flatiron Institute Center for Computational Astrophysics, working in the Gravitational Waves group led by Professor Will Farr. She received her PhD in physics from Caltech in 2019, working with Professor Saul Teukolsky, and earning the Kip Thorne Prize for Excellence in Theoretical Physics. She received her Bachelor’s degree in physics magna cum laude from Princeton University in 2014, with a minor in applications of computing. Masha is passionate about teaching and mentorship, and is devoted to increasing diversity in physics and astrophysics.