Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy

a new NASA University Research Center

Mario Díaz, University of Texas at Brownsville

On January 1st 2003, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) created at The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy (CGWA) as part of its University Research Center (URC) program. As described by NASA, the University Research Centers program is designed to achieve a broad-based, competitive aerospace research capability among the nation's Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) of Higher Education. These centers will foster new aerospace science and technology concepts; expand the nation's base for aerospace research and development; develop mechanisms for increased participation by faculty and students of MSI in mainstream research; and increase the production of socially- and economically-disadvantaged students (who are U.S. citizens and who have historically been underrepresented) with advanced degrees in NASA-related fields.

This particular center will develop excellence in research and education in areas related to the new astronomy which will become technically feasible within the next five to ten years--gravitational wave astronomy.

The CGWA will focus on three major research areas: gravitational wave data analysis, gravitational wave source modeling, and phenomenological astrophysics of supermassive black holes. The proposed research is relevant to the NASA Space Science Enterprise of charting the evolution of the universe and understanding its galaxies, stars, and their dynamics and evolution. In particular, we expect the center to make important contributions to LISA, a joint NASA-ESA mission with a projected launch date of 2011. LISA consists of three identical spacecraft located in an equilateral triangle $5\times10^6$ km on a side in a heliocentric orbit. The spacecraft carry the optical components of a Michelson-Morley interferometer, which will measure the passing of gravitational waves of astrophysical origin in the $10^{-1}$ to $10^{-4}$ Hz band. NASA's recognition of the technological and scientific opportunities presented by the LISA mission is exemplified in their selection of the Disturbance Reduction System technology as the Space Technology 7 project for the New Millennium Program.

As already evidenced by the LIGO project, the success of LISA does not depend only on the expertise of the experimental scientists and engineers who design and implement it, but also on the collaboration of a highly integrated group of scientists in astrophysics, source modeling, and data analysis. Data analysts rely on source modelers and astrophysicists to predict features of gravitational wave signals that allow them to be extracted from instrumental noise. Source modelers rely on astrophysicists and data analysts to guide them in representing the sources that are most likely to be observed. Astrophysicists use source modeling and signals extracted by data analysts (or the lack of such signals) to improve their understanding of the astrophysics of the actual sources.

The proposed CGWA will represent research expertise in all three of these theoretical disciplines, with a focus on LISA research. The core of the center's research personnel will be formed by the UTB Relativity Group (UTBRG). Currently, the UTBRG consists of five faculty (Warren Anderson, Manuela Campanelli, Mario Díaz, Carlos Lousto and Joe Romano), three post-docs and several undergraduate and graduate students. Since its creation, just six years ago, the UTBRG has developed expertise in gravitational wave source modeling and data analysis. Center funding will allow existing research strengths to be augmented by expanding the area of phenomenological astrophysics--especially related to super-massive black holes--with the incorporation of more scientists (at both the faculty and postdoctoral level). The Center is advised at the scientific level by a very distinguished Board of Advisors: Peter Bender (JILA-University of Colorado), Tom Prince (Caltech), Jorge Pullin (LSU), Douglas Richstone (University of Michigan), and Bernard Schutz (AEI).

The strong research programs at the center will help it become a national and international hub for gravitational wave scientists. It will complement a network of recently created institutions/centers devoted to gravitational wave physics. The UTBRG already has strong ties to the NSF Physics Frontier Center for Gravitational Wave Physics recently created at Penn State, to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (which provides scientific support to ground-based gravitational wave detectors), and to the recently formed source modeling group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. These affiliations will provide additional research avenues to center students and faculty. The center will have a very active visitors program. All center activities are open to the broad scientific community, whose participation will be supported through this program.

In addition, the center will develop one of its major thrusts in student support at the advanced undergraduate and graduate levels. Starting next year, the center will organize, on an annual basis, an advanced undergraduate/beginning graduate summer school in gravitational wave physics. At the end of this year, the CGWA will hold its inaugurational meeting. For more information about this event and the opportunities provided by the center, please visit the web site (presently under construction) at