Like the stars she studies, Nifty Fifty Speaker and astrophysicist Maura McLaughlin has reached some lofty heights in her young career as she works to shed further light on the Universe and the physical laws governing it, including Einstein's theory of relativity. Maura is an assistant astrophysics professor at West Virginia University where her work mainly involves researching neutron stars - burned out remnants of stars known as pulsars that are formed in supernova explosions following the collapse of massive evolved stars.
"These exotic objects are more massive than the Sun, and can spin over 700 times a second," says Maura. "They have extremely high magnetic fields - over a trillion times the Earth's," making them vibrant sources of radio waves, which are beamed like beacons of a lighthouse along their magnetic axes, she explains. Maura studies these remarkable stars with X-ray and gamma-ray satellites and with some of the largest radio telescopes in the world. Her work is helping to reshape current thinking on the laws governing the Universe. For example, in 2004, she was part of a team that discovered the only known double-pulsar system - two pulsars locked in close orbit around each other. And last year she received a $6.5 million grant award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch a research partnership with astrophysicists around the globe to directly detect for the first time the presence of gravitational waves. If this project succeeds, it stands to greatly transform physics by opening new vistas to understanding the universe, including its relationship to Einstein's theory of general relativity.
How do you think the work of this noted astrophysicist will change the way science views the universe and the laws that govern it?
Read more about Maura McLaughlin here.
Learn more about pulsars and gravitational waves in Part 1 of Maura's speech, Time-Keepers of the Cosmos:
Watch the rest if Maura's speech here: