Alessandra Buonanno, who is the Italian who won the prestigious Dirac Medal

She is the first Italian to receive the award and the second woman in the world. The researcher has received one of the main international scientific awards for her theoretical research on gravitational waves.

Alessandra Buonanno, an Italian researcher working at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, has received the Dirac medal, one of the main international scientific awards. This is a very important recognition for Italy because, for the first time in history, it has been awarded to one of our compatriots. The scientist is also the second woman ever to have been awarded the medal. Buonanno was awarded for her theoretical research at the basis of the detection of gravitational waves.

Who is Alessandra Buonanno

Born in Cassino, in the province of Frosinone, in 1968, at less than 30 years old, in 1997, Alessandra Buonanno left Italy while remaining in contact with research in our country. Graduated in theoretical physics at the University of Pisa and with a Master of Science at the same university, after a short period at CERN, she obtained a post-doctorate at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France. In 2001 she became a permanent researcher at the Laboratory of Astrophysics and Cosmology (APC) in Paris and in 2014 she was appointed co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, where she heads the Department of Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity. She is also a professor at the University of Maryland and holds honorary professorships in Berlin and Potsdam. With Thibault Damour he developed a formalism for reducing the two-body problem of general relativity to a one-body problem. His research on models of analytic relativity and numerical relativity were used by the LIGO observatory to observe, for the first time, gravitational waves produced by the union of a binary system of black holes.

Why she received the Dirac Medal

Just for her research on gravitational waves, Alessandra Buonanno was honored, along with fellow physicists Thibault Damour, Frans Pretorius and Saul Teukolsky, by the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics (Ictp). The scientists received the Dirac Medal, in particular, for their contribution in establishing the properties of gravitational waves produced when two stars or two black holes rotate around each other and then merge. "The theoretical work" of the four researchers, said the director of Ictp, Atish Dabholkar, announcing the winners, "has been fundamental in interpreting the observations made by Ligo, an extremely sophisticated experiment." "It is," he added, "an impressive verification of the accuracy of Einstein's theory of general relativity. It is a wonderful tribute to the extraordinary power of our theoretical understanding of nature, which until recently seemed too bizarre for observational verification."

Alessandra Buonanno: "Proud to be Italian"

The researcher was surprised and excited to have received the prestigious Dirac medal and explained to be "very grateful to Italy, for the studies I did at the University of Pisa, first for the degree and then for the doctorate, and I think that the preparation that you can have in Italy is still of very high level". Although the research on gravitational waves has brought her within the American collaboration Ligo, the scientist also stressed that she collaborates "with many Virgo researchers," referring to the European observatory that is located in Italy, in Cascina, not far from Pisa. "I'm very happy to be Italian - she commented - and that Italy has allowed me to obtain results like those that led me to this recognition."

Regarding black holes, another team of researchers has recently studied how these cosmic giants can spread waves and eddies similar to a tsunami, while just the European Virgo receiver has allowed scientists to observe how black holes eat stars.

Stefania Bernardini