Scott Melville, winner of the Best Student Talk Prize at BritGrav, which was sponsored by CQG, discusses the research that he’s doing on quantum gravity at Imperial College London.
Scott Melville, speaking at Bright Club on 28th April 2018. Image courtesy of Steve Cross
The present state of quantum gravity is rather unsatisfying. While perturbation theory works well at low energies, at high energies quantum gravity becomes incalculable, and leaves us hungry for answers. As we approach the Planck scale, perturbations become strongly coupled and we quickly lose perturbative control of our theory. A UV complete theory of gravity, which remains unitary and sensible to arbitrarily high energies, is hard to cook up.
We need new physics, to swallow these Planck-sized problems. This new physics shouldn’t be too heavy, or too light; not too strongly coupled, or too perturbative. We don’t yet know exactly what it should be, but it needs to hit a sweet spot. My research develops tools, called positivity bounds, which can help us better understand how low energy observables are connected to this unknown new physics.
One thing is for certain: quantum gravity is hard – and working on it sure builds up an appetite. When I’m not worrying about the fundamental nature of the Universe: I’m in the kitchen. While I may not be the best chef in the world, I make up for an abysmal lack of skill with a towering surplus of enthusiasm. You can flip anything in a pan, if you flip hard enough.
When it comes to deciding what to have for dinner, I take things very seriously: it can’t be too salty, or too sweet; not too spicy, or too bland.
by Sebastian Völkel and Kostas Kokkotas
Could you distinguish the sound of a wormhole from an ultra compact star or black hole?
Such an exotic, though quite fundamental question, could be asked to any physicist after the groundbreaking and Nobel Prize winning discoveries of gravitational waves from merging black holes and neutron stars. Gravitational waves provide mankind with a novel sense, the ability to hear the universe. This analogy, between sound waves and gravitational waves, will bring to the minds of many physicists Mark Kac’s famous question: “Can One hear the Shape of a Drum?” , and not just to the drummers amongst us. The possibility of this analogy is one of the ways in which gravitational waves are very distinct from the usual tool of astronomy, light.
To answer the question for our exotic instruments, we will rephrase it in a more technical form. In the simplest version one can describe linear perturbations of spherically symmetric and non-rotating models of wormholes and ultra compact stars. It is well known that the perturbation equations for these cases can simplify to the study of the one-dimensional wave equation with an effective potential. The solutions, which are usually given as a set of modes, represent the characteristic sound of the object. The so-called quasi-normal mode (QNM) spectrum is the starting point for our discussion.
FIG. 1. Sebastian Völkel (right) is a PhD student in the Theoretical Astrophysics group of Professor Kostas Kokkotas at the University of Tübingen, located in the south of Germany. Among his research interests is the study of compact objects along with the associated gravitational wave emissions. More information about his research can be found here.
Professor Kostas Kokkotas (left) is leading the group of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Tübingen. The focus of his research is on the dynamics of compact objects (neutron stars & black-holes) as sources of gravitational waves in general relativity and in alternative theories of gravity. More information about the group can be found here.
Photo by Severin Frank.
by Nelson Christensen
The participation of undergraduates in scientific research is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, undergraduates can make significant contributions to the science. In addition, research by undergraduates is now recognised to be an extremely important part of the educational process for these students. LIGO and Virgo have provided wonderful opportunities for undergraduates to experience the joys of physics research. With guidance, students across the undergraduate physics spectrum can find a project suited to their level of expertise and their interests.
Professor Nelson Christensen, who has conducted research and published with numerous undergraduates over the years.
Over the years at Carleton College I have had the thrill of seeing many students make real and significant contributions to LIGO and Virgo’s research efforts. When the students take their success from the classroom to research their joy for physics really springs out. But it should be noted that research is not a sure success for all undergraduate physics majors. I have seen “A” students who could never make the connection to the independent and original work required with a research project; that’s okay, research is not for everyone. On the other hand, I have worked with students who earned B’s and C’s in their physics classes, yet exploded with the opportunity of research; the applied nature of the physics motivated them, and consequently, often encouraged them to become better students in the classroom as well. Continue reading
The road to black hole thermodynamics with Λ
by Dmitry Chernyavsky and Kamal Hajian
What are volume and pressure in black hole thermodynamics? That is the question!
What do the gas in a balloon and a black hole have in common? For a regular CQG reader the answer should be obvious; both can be described within the framework of thermodynamics. However we know that the gas in balloon is characterised by volume and pressure, as well as other thermodynamic quantities. So, a natural question arises about analogues of the volume and pressure for a black hole.
Answering this question, black hole physicists have noticed that if the universe is filled with a non-zero cosmological constant Λ, this mysterious entity can be absorbed in the energy-momentum tensor of matter, and its contribution resembles a perfect fluid with a pressure proportional to Λ. Continuing with this analogy, one can also introduce a ‘thermodynamic volume’ for a black hole. For instance, the appropriate volume which satisfies the first law of thermodynamics for the Schwarzschild black hole is equal to the volume of a ball with the same radius, but in flat space! Using the notions of the black hole pressure P and volume V, it is standard to vary the cosmological constant generalising the first law of black hole thermodynamics by V δP.
Dmitry Chernyavsky and Kamal Hajian Sevan lake in Armenia where we started to think about the cosmological conserved charge instead of cosmological constant.
by Dr. Donald G. Bruns
Don Bruns and his wife Carol on eclipse day at the Lions Camp on Casper Mtn. The tripod is bolted to the custom mosaic designed and built by his cousin Steve Lang.
After much anticipation, two experiments had great successes last year. On August 17 2017, the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration monitored the merger of two neutron stars millions of light years away. Only four days later in Wyoming, an experiment to measure the gravitational bending of starlight by the Sun acquired the best data since the idea was first tested in 1919, by Sir Arthur Eddington, in Africa. I published my results on that experiment in Classical and Quantum Gravity on March 6, 2018. My solo project to repeat Eddington’s achievement, which made Einstein famous, required a lot less manpower than LIGO!
Early last century, Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity that contained some unusual predictions, including the idea that massive bodies bend light beams. The only way to test this would be during a total eclipse, when the sky would be dark enough to see stars close to the Sun, where the effect just might be measurable.
I started planning Eddington’s re-enactment when I found out that no one had attempted it since 1973 (also in Africa) and that no one had ever succeeded in getting all the parts to work during those precious few minutes of totality. I assumed that with modern charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras and computerized telescopes, the experiment would be much easier. I was wrong! While some aspects were simplified (the Gaia star catalog provided accurate star positions, for example, and modern weather predictions and the compact equipment eased many logistics problems), dealing with pixels, turbulence, and a limited sensor dynamic range presented new challenges.
by Clifford Will, Editor-in-Chief, Classical and Quantum Gravity
The gravitational physics community, indeed the whole world, mourns the passing on Wednesday 14th March, 2018, of Stephen Hawking at the age of 76. The Editor, Board and staff of CQG offer their heartfelt condolences to Stephen’s family. There are already numerous extended obituaries of Stephen, and I won’t attempt one here (see for example the fine obituaries by Dennis Overbye in the New York Times and by Roger Penrose in the Guardian).
I will, however, offer two personal remembrances of Stephen that I hope will illustrate his humorous side. In 1972, I was a student at the famous Les Houches Summer School on black holes, where Stephen, Brandon Carter and Jim Bardeen lectured and wrote the seminal paper “The Four Laws of Black Hole Mechanics”, that suggested a formal analogy with the laws of thermodynamics. This was soon followed by papers by Jacob Bekenstein and by Stephen that made this more than an analogy. But one of the things I most remember about the school was the awe-struck look on my eight-year-old daughter Betsy’s face watching Stephen in his wheelchair demonstrating how he could wiggle his ears like Dumbo the elephant.
The second remembrance was a visit to Cambridge in 1978, where Stephen had asked me to give a colloquium on tests of GR and invited me and my wife to join him and Jane at “high table” dinner at his college, Gonville and Caius. I showed up in a psychedelic paisley shirt with ridiculously wide collars, baby blue flared jeans, and high-heeled boots (think John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”, but with hippie length hair). This was attire totally inappropriate for high table (hey, this was the 70s and was the best I had in my suitcase), but Stephen was delighted to have somebody there who made the stuffy and decorum-obsessed masters of the college more uncomfortable than he did. And when, during the ritual passing of the after-dinner liqueurs along the table, the college master chided me sternly for allowing the port to precede the claret, I thought Stephen was going slide out of his wheelchair, hysterical with laughter.
We have lost a remarkable scientist and a unique human being.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
It’s sophomore year of our Classical and Quantum Gravity reviewer of the year awards. This year congratulations go to Dr Matthew Pitkin whose reviews were not only of exceptional quality but also submitted in good time. Matt has dedicated even more time to CQG by answering these questions. Congratulations Matt!
Tell us how you go about reviewing an article?
I’d probably echo many of last years’ winners points. Firstly, I have to decide whether I think I have the expertise to review the article. Working in the field of gravitational waves, I quite often receive requests to review papers on aspects of theoretical gravity, which I have absolutely no relevant knowledge of. (Going by my day-to-day work I’m really just a self-taught software developer and data scientist, who masquerades as an astrophysicist!) If I decide that I am qualified, then I give the article a quick skim, print it out, write “For review” in big red letters on it, and sit it somewhere prominently on my desk, so that I can’t ignore it. I also set an online calendar reminder with the deadline for returning the review.
I normally actually sit down to perform the review during a lull in my day-to-day work, like when I’ve just set an analysis code running. I just go through it methodically with a red pen in hand and scribble on the print out when I hit things I don’t understand or think might be problematic. Often, I’ll find that parts I don’t understand are actually explained later on in the paper, so this can indicate that some rearrangement of the article might be in order to clarify things. I check for any stand-out mathematical errors, but don’t have the ability to check all derivations in papers. I try not to make comments for the sake of writing something if there aren’t any problems with the paper. When I do make comments, I try to give constructive advice about how to improve the clarity of the article, or where more explanation might be required. But, I also know that it’s not my job to re-write the article, so don’t give very lengthy comments or suggestions.
By Parampreet Singh, Louisiana State University, USA
A successful union of Einstein’s general relativity and quantum theory is one of the most fundamental problems of theoretical physics. Though a final theory of quantum gravity is not yet available, its lessons and techniques can already be used to understand quantization of various spacetimes. Of these, cosmological spacetimes are of special interest. They provide a simpler yet a non-trivial and a highly rich setting to explore detailed implications of quantum gravitational theories. Various conceptual and technical difficulties encountered in understanding quantum dynamics of spacetime in quantum gravity can be bypassed in such a setting. Further, valuable lessons can be learned for the quantization of more general spacetimes.
In the last decade, progress in loop quantum gravity has provided avenues which allow us to reliably answer various interesting questions about the quantum dynamics of spacetime in the cosmological setting. Quantum gravitational dynamics of cosmological spacetimes obtained using techniques of loop quantum gravity leads to a novel picture where singularities of Einstein’s theory of general relativity are overcome and a new window opens to test loop quantum gravity effects through astronomical observations.
The scope of the Focus Issue: Applications of loop quantum gravity to cosmology, published last year in CQG, is to provide a snapshot of some of the rigorous and novel results on this research frontier in the cosmological setting.
Bypassing stability conditions and curing logarithmic singularities
By Jörg Frauendiener and Jörg Hennig
Assume you want to model a general relativistic spacetime. Due to the annoying limitations of conventional computers, like finite memory and processing speed, it is tempting to focus on a finite portion of the spacetime. Then, without waiting endlessly, one can obtain an approximate description of this portion. One just has to choose a suitable numerical method and solve the field equations for the metric at some set of grid-points. While this approach is standard, it introduces unpleasant problems. Firstly, the set of equations needs to be complemented with boundary conditions at the outer edges of this finite portion, in order to obtain a complete mathematical problem. This, however, is quite unphysical as usually no information about the actual behaviour at such an artificial boundary is available. Consequently, spurious gravitational radiation enters the numerical domain. Secondly, if one is interested in accurately describing gravitational waves, one should recall that these are only well-defined at infinity. Hence it is desirable to extend the simulation up to infinity.
Jörg Frauendiener and Jörg Hennig trapped at infinity.
Hopefully yes: Measure their Berry phases.
By Blagoje Oblak
Some years ago, at a dinner party, I met a fellow physicist who asked me what I was working on. I told him I was studying asymptotic symmetries — symmetries of space-time seen by observers located far away from all sources of the gravitational field. Remarkably, I said, these symmetries often have a beautiful infinite-dimensional structure and may provide new insights in our understanding of gravity. Somewhat sceptical, he replied: `Well surely this must be in some toy model — some extra dimensions, or postulated particles and fields… There’s no way this is directly relevant to our actual, real world!’ While I could understand his perspective, I also felt a little hurt by his cynicism towards theoretical science, so I was happy to retort: No, asymptotic symmetries do not require anything beyond what has been firmly established by experiment; just take pure general relativity, and their magic reveals itself.
- Blagoje Oblak performing a gravitational experiment in the Mediterranean. Photo credit: Geoffrey Mullier.