Hi! My name is Emma, I'm a theoretical astrophysicist studying for my PhD in Southampton, UK and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
I'm researching how neutron stars make gravitational waves by growing mountains. Neutron stars are about the size of a small city and up to 1.4 times heavier than the sun, making them one of the most compact known objects in the universe. Neutron stars have incredibly strong gravitational and magnetic fields. These extreme environments make neutron stars excellent laboratories for testing the laws of physics to their limits!
To make gravitational waves all you need is: some mass, asymmetry and acceleration. That means we make gravitational waves everytime we move. The problem is gravity is weak, making it impossible to detect the gravitational waves that we produce.
Neutron stars are the roundest known objects in the universe. To make gravitational waves they need to change shape and they do this by a process called accretion. Accretion occurs when a neutron star has a companion star like our sun. The neutron star's gravitational field draws matter from the companion star on to its surface causing mountains to grow. As the neutron star spins, the mountain 'hooks' onto spacetime, stirring it up, producing gravitational waves. To produce a gravitational wave signal that is detectable on earth, one of these mountains has to grow to a tremendous 3mm tall.
I love sharing my passion of physics with the world. I enjoy the challenge of breaking down scientific concepts in a way that makes them accesible to everyone. On this website you can follow my public engagement activities. If you would like more science in your daily life, follow me by clicking on the icons in the top righthand corner of this page, on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter for fun facts, videos and illustrations, all about Einstein's theory of Relativity.