Carnegie Mellon University
January 19, 2021

Carl Rodriguez Receives Kaufman Foundation New Investigator Award

By Ben Panko

Assistant Professor of Physics Carl Rodriguez has received a New Investigator Award from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation. The two-year, $150,000 grant will support his research into understanding the origins of binary black holes and the gravitational waves they produce.

"On Sept. 14, 2015, the two detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) observed a 0.2 second burst of energy that forever transformed physics," Rodriguez said. The elusive gravitational wave picked up by LIGO was from the merger of two black holes, and its detection validated a prediction influential physicist Albert Einstein made nearly a century earlier.

"But even five years later, we still do not fully understand the origin of the binary black holes that LIGO saw that day," Rodriguez added. Some have hypothesized that the black holes were the remnants of a binary star that had been together since its formation, while others have speculated that the black holes formed individually and were brought together by strong gravitational forces inside dense star clusters.

Using high-powered computers, Rodriguez will work to model the dynamics of thousands of small star clusters to understand how gravitational forces can affect the evolution of binary stars and potentially create gravitational waves.

"This kind of specialized approach will be critical to understanding the thousands of detections that LIGO is expected to make over the coming decade," Rodriguez said.

“With the global coronavirus pandemic underway and a world waking up to the dramatic and harmful effects of climate change, particularly on the most vulnerable, it’s clear that our world needs scientific research now more than ever,” Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation said in announcing the grant. “It’s an honor for our Foundation to carry forth Charles Kaufman’s vision of funding innovative scientific research that breaks down interdisciplinary barriers to enhance human understanding and quality of life.”

Grants from the Kaufman Foundation, a supporting organization of the Pittsburgh Foundation, go to institutes of higher learning in Pennsylvania for scientists pursuing research that explores essential questions and/or crosses disciplinary boundaries. New Investigator grants are awarded to scientists transitioning to independent appointments or engaging in new research and are meant to empower promising scientists at the beginning of their careers.