RAS recognition for astro thesis

19 June 2020

Dr Oliver Tattersall, a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant at the Department of Physics and former graduate student in the department has been named runner-up for the Royal Astronomical Society’s Michael Penston Thesis Prize.

Oliver’s thesis, entitled ‘Testing gravity with black holes’, was inspired by the first detection of gravitational waves emitted by a binary black hole merger in 2016. He investigates the ways in which black holes, and the gravitational waves they emit, are affected by modifying the laws that govern gravity – thus probing Einstein's theory of General Relativity (and its various extensions) with future gravitational wave observations of black holes.

‘I had done a short research project on black holes and modified gravity theories during my Master's degree, so I was already interested in these topics,’ confirms Oliver. ‘The 2016 Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) discovery coincided with my graduate application to further my studies and it seemed like the ideal time to start researching black holes and gravitational waves.

Understanding black holes

‘To me, black holes are among the most interesting consequences of Einstein's theory of General Relativity, so it is amazing to be able to study their theoretical properties at the same time that ground-breaking observations of real, astrophysical black holes are being made. It feels like we are at the dawn of a new age of astronomy.

‘I am hugely honoured to be acknowledged by the Royal Astronomical Society for my thesis, as I know first-hand how talented my year group of astrophysics doctoral students are – both here in Oxford and across the UK. It is also nice to be involved in a tiny piece of RAS history as it celebrates its 200th year!’

Head of Astrophysics at Oxford Professor Rob Fender concludes: ‘We are all extremely proud of Oliver’s achievement. It reflects exceptionally well on him, his supervisor Pedro Ferreira and the stimulating research environment in astrophysics.’