Interview with Dr Anna Heffernan: winner of the 2014 IOP Gravitational Physics Group’s thesis prize, co-sponsored by CQG

Anna Heffernan

Dr Anna Heffernan, Advanced Concepts Team, European Space Agency

What led you into science and your chosen area of research?

I’ve always enjoyed Mathematics and learning about the world around me. General relativity allows us to use mathematics to probe the very space time in which we exist – I find this fascinating, and it means I also get to play with equations for a living.

What do you find most interesting about this subject?

The fundamental questions it both addresses and raises. I also like the idea that with the emergence of gravitational wave astronomy, general relativity will soon be used as a tool to explore our universe.

Can you tell us a little bit about the work in your thesis?

Sure, my thesis was on the self-force problem – this is when a charged or massive particle produces a field that affects its motion, pushing it off its expected geodesic. Many of the methods used to calculate this self-force use a singular-regular split of the field. My work mainly focussed on modelling the singular component and using this to push the boundaries on current precision limits of self-force calculation. When looking at black hole binary modelling, the self-force can be applied to extreme mass ratio inspirals, which are a key source for future space based gravitational wave detectors. My thesis was titled “The Self-force Problem: Local Behaviour of the Detweiler-Whiting Singular Field”. It can be found online on the arXiv (arXiv:1403.6177).

What do you think of CQG+?

I like it – it’s important to keep an eye on what’s going on outside your field and CQG+ highlights important papers in all gravitational sub-fields.

Have you read the latest CQG highlights?

Yes, I really like the paper by Abraham I. Harte on gravitational lensing by gravitational waves. He shows how lensing is possible by gravitational radiation with some really different effects compared to lenses associated with mass distributions. It’s a cool paper.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have several on-going projects, all related to gravitational waves. I’m continuing my theoretical work with black hole binary systems but also looking more on the experimental side of gravitational wave detection.

In your opinion, what are the most interesting things happening in gravitational physics right now?

I think that would be the global effort that is currently taking place towards detecting gravitational waves – the fact that you have so many scientists from different research areas working together to bring about this direct detection is amazing.

What advice would you give to young scientists at the early stages of their career?

Do what you love to do and don’t worry if you hit a bump in the road – just persist and it will all work out in the end.

What has been the most exciting moment in your career so far?

Getting my first post-doc for sure. It just lets you know that the hard work paid off and you’re going where you wanted to go.

What is your favourite (non-physics) book/author?

Hmmm, I do like detective novels so I would have to say Michael Connelly.

An announcement about the GPG Thesis Prize is available on CQG+
For further details about the prize, including how to make nominations, please see the GPG web page.

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About Adam Day

Adam Day is the former publisher of Classical and Quantum Gravity. His background is mostly in publishing, where he thoroughly enjoyed working with the gravitational physics community. He now works as a Data Scientist for SAGE Publishing.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Dr Anna Heffernan: winner of the 2014 IOP Gravitational Physics Group’s thesis prize, co-sponsored by CQG

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