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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

From small to large: a study of gravitational waves using scattering amplitudes of subatomic particles

A recently awarded grant on current research done in the CTP related to gravitational waves features in the Leverhulme Trust newsletter.

Gravitational waves

Image credit: LIGO/T. Pyle

If you visit the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, you have the opportunity to admire Vincent Van Gogh's beautiful painting of the night sky called "Starry Night." While watching the night sky may evoke a sense of stillness and profound calm for many, the reality is quite different. Deep within the sky, cataclysmic events constantly occur: black holes and neutron stars collide, spiral around each other, and merge, emitting tremendous amounts of energy in the form of gravitational waves.

A century after Einstein's prediction, the direct detection of gravitational waves was finally achieved in 2015 by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations. This groundbreaking achievement opened a fascinating window into our universe, revealing events with extreme energies that had never been observed before. While the initial observations were based on a limited number of merger events, future gravitational-wave detectors, both terrestrial and space-based, will be capable of capturing evidence from millions of mergers per year. These detectors will provide unprecedented sensitivity, surpassing the capabilities of current LIGO and Virgo observatories.

Due to the minuscule size of black holes and neutron stars compared to the wavelengths of gravitational radiation and the typical size of astronomical orbits, we can effectively treat them as point-like objects. This observation allows us to leverage the powerful methods developed over several decades to study the scattering of subatomic particles at colliders like CERN's LHC, pushing the precision frontier in both particle physics and gravitational physics. Scattering amplitudes possess an intriguing simplicity that has uncovered unexpected connections to various branches of mathematics, including twistor theory, number theory, and string theory. A surprising "colour/kinematics" duality has been discovered, establishing a link between gravitational amplitudes and non-gravitational ones through the concept of the "double copy."

In response to the demand for new theoretical predictions, Professor Gabriele Travaglini's research combines powerful methods in scattering amplitudes, quantum field theory, effective field theory, and the double copy technique. The aim is to develop novel methodologies that advance the precision frontier in gravitational-wave research, providing highly accurate models to be compared with future experimental data.

Image credit: LIGO/T. Pyle



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