Thibault Damour, permanent professor at IHES since 1989, is one of the three recipients of the Galileo Galilei Medal, together with physicists Alessandra Buonanno and Frans Pretorius “for the fundamental understanding of sources of gravitational radiation by complementary analytic and numerical techniques, enabling predictions that have been confirmed by gravitational wave observations and are now key tools in this new branch of astronomy”.
The prize thus recognizes the importance of the three researchers’ theoretical and numerical studies describing the behavior of coalescing black holes, that have been instrumental to the analysis of experimental data obtained by the gravitational wave detectors LIGO and by the Virgo Collaboration.
Prof. Buonanno, who is now the director of the “Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity” Department at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, was a post-doctoral researcher at IHES, when she worked with Prof. Damour to develop a new analytical model for binary black holes in 1998.
“Our model predicted that the spiraling process releases an enormous amount of gravitational radiation and provided the first analytical estimate of the full gravitational wave emitted during the last orbits and the coalescence of the two black holes,” explains Prof. Damour.
Prof. Pretorius, professor of physics at Princeton University and director of the Princeton Gravity Initiative, got interested in binary black holes in 2005 and came up with a first numerical solution to describe what happens when two black holes collide.
“The theoretical studies of Buonanno, Damour and Pretorius were fundamental for the start of a new era of gravitational astronomy and I am sure they will give even further prestige to the Galileo Galilei Medal,” explains Stefania De Curtis, the Director of the Galileo Galilei Institute in Arcetri, Italy, which together with the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the University of Florence, participates in awarding the Prize. The Galileo Galilei Medal is awarded every two years to researchers who have made outstanding and seminal contributions to the advancement of research in theoretical physics. The Prize was created in 2019 and its first recipient is physicist Juan Martin Maldacena, member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.