Mirka Loiselle/THE VARSITY

If there is one constant in the universe, it is the overpowering, gravitational pull of a black hole.

The influence that black holes have on the functioning of the universe makes them a vital point of study in humanity’s quest to comprehend space and the many fascinating objects it contains.

For his expertise in unraveling the mystery of binary black holes, University of Toronto associate professor Harald Pfeiffer was recently awarded the Bessel Research Award. It is one of twenty bestowed this year.

Awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, the Bessel Research Award recognizes a researcher whose fundamental discoveries or new theories significantly impact their discipline. The award, valued at 45,000 Euros ($65,000 CAD), gives the awardee an opportunity to work at a German research institution for up to a year, allowing them to collaborate with colleagues in Europe over a long-term research project.

Pfeiffer, who is already on sabbatical at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, will use the money to finance part of the sabbatical and further his, and the world’s, scientific understanding of black holes.

This award comes on the heels of an international group of scientists, including Pfeiffer, announcing that they had successfully detected the first binary black hole and gravitational waves. The finding verified a founding part of Albert Einstein’s one hundred year old general relativity theory. Pfeiffer has been a part of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) for the past three years. There, he focused on computing the wave forms that would result from all possible collisions of black holes. “Modelling is important because you need to know the potential shape of the wave,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s easier to find a gravitational wave when you know what you’re looking for.”

Now that the first binary black hole has been detected, and LIGO may detect many more, Pfeiffer says that he wants “to investigate in even greater detail than before, to be able to pry every possible piece of information from these exciting detections.” He adds that his research interests include “the fundamental physics problems that are opened up through gravitational waves.” In the future, he hopes to solve even more fundamental questions about spacetime theory, including whether or not Einstein’s theory of general relativity is the correct theory of gravity.

Like our content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required