FAPESP's contribution to the top physics breakthroughs of 2017
Researchers supported by FAPESP participated in three of the “Top Ten Breakthroughs in 2017” listed by the journal Physics World. The ten breakthroughs were chosen by Physics World editors from a shortlist based on popularity with the journal’s readers. Its Breakthrough of the Year Award went to the first-ever multimessenger observation of a merger of two neutron stars involving gravitational waves.
On October 16, 2017, an international group of 3,000 astronomers and astrophysicists – including the three winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, US physicists Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip S. Thorne – announced in an article in The Astrophysical Journal Letters the first-ever observation in several electromagnetic bands of a merger of two neutron stars, which are extremely dense celestial bodies created by the imploding cores of giant stars.
The event produced gravitational waves recorded by the US National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and by the Virgo detector in Italy. This is the first time light associated with a gravitational-wave event has been detected (read more about the discovery at agencia.fapesp.br/26639).
The study included contributions from sixty Brazilian researchers, affiliated with the University of São Paulo (USP), the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), also in São Paulo State, the University of Feira de Santana (UEFS) in Bahia State, the National Space Research Institute (INPE), the National Observatory (ON), the Brazilian Center for Research in Physics (CBPF), the Celso Sukow da Fonseca Federal Technological Education Center, the Interinstitutional e-Astronomy Laboratory, the Federal Universities of Sergipe (UFS), Santa Catarina (UFSC), Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), and Paraná (UFPR), the ABC (UFABC) and Alfenas (UNIFAL), and Fluminense Federal University (UFF).
The Brazilian researchers affiliated with the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics & Atmospheric Sciences (IAG-USP) and Physics Institute (IF-USP), the National Observatory, and the Federal Universities of Sergipe (UFS), Santa Catarina (UFSC) and Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) participated in the study in collaboration with colleagues from the United States, Argentina, Chile, Spain and Germany via observations performed using T80-South, a robotic telescope built with FAPESP’s support and installed at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Odylio Denys de Aguiar and César Augusto Costa, researchers at INPE, and Riccardo Sturani, a researcher at UFRN’s International Physics Institute, are members of the LIGO scientific collaboration. Their participation in the collaboration has been supported by FAPESP via several scholarships and grants.
Flavia Sobreira, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute (IFGW-UNICAMP), participated in the study as a member of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration, which was one of the first to observe the violent merger of two neutron stars that occurred more than 130 million years ago and produced the gravitational waves. Sobreira participated in the collaboration with a postdoctoral scholarship awarded by FAPESP.
Professors from IFGW-UNICAMP and colleagues from IF-USP, UFRJ, UFF, the University of São Paulo’s São Carlos Physics Institute (IFSC-USP), UFPR, UEFS, UFABC, the Federal University of Pelotas, CBPF, and the University of São Paulo’s Lorena School of Engineering (EEL-USP) participated in the study as members of the Pierre Auger Collaboration, which runs the world’s largest cosmic ray observatory, located in Mendoza Province, Argentina.
The researchers in the Auger Collaboration conducted a search for ultra-high-energy neutrinos associated with the merger of the two neutron stars but did not find this type of particle.
Participation in the Auger Collaboration by the researchers affiliated with universities and research institutions in São Paulo State is supported by FAPESP under the aegis of a Thematic Project for which Carola Dobrigkeit Chinellato, a professor at IFGW-UNICAMP, is principal investigator. Participation by researchers in other states is funded by other state and federal agencies (read more about Brazil’s participation in the Pierre Auger Collaboration at agencia.fapesp.br/20997).
The researchers of the Auger Collaboration were also the authors of another 2017 breakthrough listed by Physics World: the discovery that ultra-high-energy cosmic rays come from outside the Milky Way.
An article published in September in the journal Science by the Auger Collaboration, which comprises some 500 scientists from 17 member countries, including 30 researchers from Brazil, announced that above a certain energy level these particles, which are the most energetic in the known Universe and constantly reach Earth’s atmosphere, are of extragalactic origin (read more at agencia.fapesp.br/26426).
Another breakthrough listed by the journal is the creation of the first “topological” laser by physicists at the University of California, San Diego (USA).
“The device involves light snaking around a cavity of any shape without scattering – much like the motion of electrons on the surface of a topological insulator. The laser works at telecom wavelengths and could lead to better photonic circuits or even protect quantum information from scattering,” write the editors of Physics World.
The members of the research group that worked on this study included Felipe Vallini, a professor at IFGW-UNICAMP whose master’s research was supported by a scholarship from FAPESP.
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Image credit: FAPESP.