Hi, my name is Akshat Singhal and I belong to Delhi, India and currently working on data analysis of continuous sources of gravitational waves under the umbrella of one of the finest researchers in the field in University of Rome, la Sapienza Italy under my supervisors Dr. Paola Leaci and Dr. Cristiano Palomba. I am in my second year and expected to finish my thesis around October 2018.

My work in essence is to develop a new and efficient pipeline which can look at the data coming from the gravitational wave detectors and analyse whether or not it contains a continuous gravitational wave from neutron stars in binary orbit; and, if yes, its origin.  Since the motion of the neutron star causes the frequency of the gravitational wave changes. This fact makes it challenging because these pipelines can be very computationally expensive or in other words would require a lot of computational resources. Electromagnetic astronomers who study neutron stars orbiting around other companion stars share the behaviour of the motion of these neutron stars to their best accuracy. However for a low strength gravitational wave hunter, even these small region of uncertainties are a large gaps of unknowns. In order for a pipeline to correctly detect the gravitational wave, it has to remove the variation in frequency due the orbital motion of the neutron star but, unless the motion is not precisely known the signal cannot be corrected accurately. The accuracy required in these pipelines are usually finer than the ones provided by the electromagnetic astronomers. My thesis is about generalising the existing pipeline of detecting isolated pulsars to also include binary pulsars. This I have achieved by modifying existing pipeline which uses 5-vector method with help of  a Matlab tool box named Snag developed by Prof. Sergio Frasca who is one of the pioneer in this field. Currently I am running few tests to understand the robustness of this generalised method. In the end we are expected to get the maximum tolerance allowed in the inaccuracy of the binary orbital motion and min amplitude or the strength of the signal this method is sensitive to.

I had chance of being part of several conferences, workshops and few schools organised under the project GraWIToN.  One of theses workshops on advanced detectors was held in Isola (island) Elba. Undoubtedly it was one of the most beautiful place I ever visited. After every morning session there would be a 3hr lunch break where everybody would join in the beaches. Although this workshop was out of my field since I belong to the data analysis group, I got to understand the functioning of the various instruments and what makes their setup so challenging. Most of the workshops after this I participated in were oriented into data analysis. One of the data analysis workshop was organised by my home institute specially which was quite insightful on the topic. The fun thing about schools are that after the lectures and discussions are over we often hangout together in the evening and the later discussion takes place in a very informal way.  This was also a time when I tried my experience to be in a freely falling frame, i.e. sky diving.

A new thing was started where Italian and French researchers were brought on a same platform for more interaction. Everybody was divided in to 3 groups and I was part of the group headed by Dr. Frédérique Marion. I learned a lot from her. The last GraWIToN project was on the Project management and by all means one of the most enjoyable workshop so far. After a long time all the GraWIToN students came together. We shared ideas from public outreach to potential task which must be done by a project manager in a large scale project.

Eventually when my simulations and analysis start producing presentable results, I took the opportunity present my results in the Virgo week which takes place in Virgo Cascina. It was an experience which taught me few presentation skills which were useful in later presentation. This skill was very useful when I had to present the poster of my thesis in the GWPAW event in Annecy. Another beautiful place to host a conference, it had a very nice lake and beautiful streets to hang around. Then came the event for which I was preparing for a long time; The LVC meeting. The face 2 face meeting is known for low tolerance on unexplained information or false data due to poor implementation. A lot of fruitful discussions later I was hardened to be a better researcher. I met many old friends, got a chance to take a tour of CERN. It was good to see how seemingly two different fields can come together for a common goal. And who can forget that CERN is also a birth place for world wide web (www), I was surely not going to miss that chance.

Finally it was the time when 2 breaking news hit the media back to back where the confirmation of an event named GW170814 was announce which also coincident with the Virgo detector. It was a reason for a big celebration in the group and I felt proud to be a part of one. Not much later Nobel prize was announced to the 3 founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) and the observation of gravitational waves to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne. I am sure this announcement will inspire many young budding researchers in the future.

I had to say that being part of the Marie Curie project GraWIToN was a life changing event. I got so much exposure, met elite researchers of their field and most importantly got the opportunity to contribute to this great endeavour. Over all it was a wonderful program which brings researchers from different fields come together and train in a multi disciplinary project. The training schools and the workshops organised were well directed in to creating researchers skilled enough for next generation detectors. I believe more projects like these will be needed as the we move towards the era of 3rd generation+ detectors.

In the blink of an eye, Summer 2016 became Summer 2017.

This year the autumn has a special meaning, it doesn’t just sign the end of the Summer, but also the end of a much more important “season” for me, GraWIToN.

Even though this won’t mean the end of my PhD, which will probably happen during the spring of the next year, this marks an important change to my life as early stage researcher.

The GraWIToN project has been giving me an incredible opportunity for growing from both a professional and personal point of view and for this I am deeply thankful to everybody who has contributed in realising this Gravitational Waves Initial Training Network. In particular I would like to thank the Project and Scientific Coordinators, Michele Punturo and  Elena Cuoco, and the Financial Officer & Project Assistant, Erika Morucci who accompanied us during all these intense 3 years, in one of the most significance experience -at least- of my life.

With GraWIToN, the Marie Curie Actions programme has allowed me to put myself on the line, in a unique stream of experiences.

The programme is openly valuing mobility and interactions. Main consequence for me: moving from my little village (~500 people) in Trentino to Birmingham (the second city for population in UK). From the personal point of view, I had to forget that not many years before I tried moving to Bologna for the master in astrophysics and that I couldn’t last more than 3 months away from home, so homesick I was.

Anyway, after have taken several deep breaths -and not only-, I started my PhD programme in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. The environment here is very different from the one I was used to, at the University of Trento. The group is much larger, so that an incredible wide range of interesting research topics merge in this lively milieu.

Since the School is also very active, this diversity has reflected the several activities that have been organise, including schools and seminars, which have helped me in contextualising the field of gravitational waves and my research.

Here I met new people and meeting new people always enriches you deeper than you think.

This has become clear for me under different aspects, but one which stand out particularly is outreach. Outreach plays a big role in the School of Physics and Astronomy, especially for the growing group of the newly born Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy. I have been involved in several outreach activities as part of this group, even in the last months, such as: an Open Day, a workshop for school teachers in Cosford, 3 events of Astronomy in The City, Cheltenham Science Festival and Community Day. I have also been leading the organisation of the Astronomy workshop within the Physics Experience Week of this year and with, another colleague, within the Girls In STEM Day. Moreover I have been driving the design of the T-shirts for the Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy and I also participate, as LIGO member of the Birmingham group, to the Summer Science Exhibition run by the Royal Society in London.

They have all been very nice and interesting experiences, which have helped me in being more comfortable in presenting my research topic and field to different types of public.

At the School of Physics and Astronomy I have learnt a lot in terms of outreach activities and their organisation. In future I hope to develop such interests and knowledge to contribute to the public involvement in research in more comfortable environments, especially where outreach is still untapped.

Within the busy environment of the School I have also developed independence in my every day research activities and learnt to promote myself and my work at conferences.

But GraWIToN for sure has done much more than inserting me in the School of Physics and Astronomy.

GraWIToN is first of all a network of PhD students, coming from all over the world.  Together we attended the several Network Schools that have been organised to give us a common and basic background on the GW astronomy and technology. During those periods we have got to know each other and to grow together from both the personal and professional points of view.

Our network has been developed in a much larger one, generally dedicated to developing the gravitational wave science. Despite the dispersion of this broad and final goal, we were anyway able to build some small but direct connections, between people working on similar aspects of the GW field. For example, I am in contact with Shubanshu Tiwari to test and develop a classification tool aimed in flagging eccentricity in gravitational wave signals produce by the coalescences of compact objects.

The GraWIToN schools have also been promoting the importance of outreach activities. For example in last School (the Project Management School), we spent an afternoon with high school students developing ideas to use for promoting the GW science. The experience was not only very interesting and fun by itself, but it also gave me the possibility of meeting two extraordinary experts of the science communication: Xenia Fosella and Daniele Molaro. Thanks also to Elena Cuoco, I also had the chance of working more directly with them, inside the project “Meet the Scientist” promoted by B:kind at Liceo Pesenti, by leading a seminar on GWs to an high school class.

As probably some people already know, all these opportunities have completely changed my approach to outreach. I still remember my silence during the first encounter with outreach during the first GraWIToN school, while now I am regularly involved in such activities, even outside the Birmingham group.

For example in the last months I was invited to give a talk on the GW discovery for Lions Club Trento Clesio and Lions Club Trento of the Concilio and, thanks to Michele Punturo, I also went at EUCYS 2016 in Brussels, to represent the GraWIToN project at the European Commission Sponsor desk. The experience was incredibly interesting, not only from the divulgation point of view, but also for remembering that science is even broader than astronomy. There indeed I  met Miguel Bosch Pita, that made me re-discovering the great interests I have been having on mind and its mysteries.

Since last summer, the GraWIToN project has also allowed me to travel and disseminate my research in several conferences. I presented my results on the project aimed in speeding up the parameter estimation of compact binary coalescences at the “21st International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation” at the Columbia University. It was a very exciting experience, which also resulted in me winning the James B. Hartle Award for the best student presentation at session C2 at the 21st tri-annual conference of the society held in New York City and it also gave me the opportunity to visit the fantastic city of New York!

Since then, I have been more focused on promoting the project started with Marica Branchesi during the secondment, which indeed I presented on several occasions, giving talks at:

  • Numerical simulations meet gravitational waves: astrophysics and fundamental physics with neutron star mergers, workshop organise at University of Birmingham to start collaboration with the Frankfort University,
  • Workshop SGRB 2016 at University of Trento,
  • IV congresso nazionale GRB in Bergamo,
  • GWPAW 2017 in Annecy;
  • Virgo week - remotely;
  • call within the electromagnetic working group of the LVC,

and presenting a poster at:

  • LVC meeting of March 2017 in Pasadena.

The project I have started during my secondment, represents most of my current research work. Indeed in the last few months we finalised into two publications both the works on the first case of signal classification in burst searches and acceleration of frequency domain waveform generation in the context of parameter estimation for compact binary coalescences.

The completion of these two works has required a lot of efforts and further investigations, with compared to what we expected, however I am now very proud for having achieved in both the studies, the maturity necessary for publication.

Thank to our paper “Accelerating gravitational wave parameter estimation with multi-band template interpolation ”,  I have been also recently asked to write ‘Insight’ piece to be published on CQG+.

As I was saying, after the submission of the two papers, my research has been focused on developing a tool, that we named “SAPrEMO” (Simplified Algorithm for Predicting Electro-Magnetic Observations). The project is the result of the secondment I spent in Urbino, which I described in my previous newsletter.

Summarising, the final goal of the tool is to elaborate information on a particular emission to determine how many events should be present in a given survey of data. The tool takes as inputs the expected light curve, a rate model on source events and main properties of the survey of interest.

It calculates number of detectable events, their flux and durations.

The algorithm has been developed (up to this Summer) by considering as detections the events which have fluxes higher than the sensitivity of the survey. The code constructed under this assumption is already written in a tool-functioning level and it is ready for being tested and applied to specific surveys. However we have recently started a parallel implementation, considering a different detection criteria, based on fluxes  integrated over time and also energy. The development of such code has required a deep manipulation of the excusing code, and it is therefore in a developing stage.

As mentioned before, I also started working with Shubanshu Tiwari, for outlining a procedure in the cWB burst search, to identify eccentricity in chirping signals.

I have also been involved in a project aimed in predicting the rate and the mass distributions of binary black hole using the population synthesis code (COMPAS) here developed. In this project I have been collaborating in interpreting results to outline prospects for the future Einstein telescope.

I have also recently contributed to the draft of THESEUS’s white paper. THESEUS is a concept mission for the ESA call for medium-size mission (M5) in the context of the Cosmic Vision Programme. It will be equipped by a large FOV (~1sr) Soft X-ray Imager, which makes it particularly suitable for following up gravitational wave candidates. Several theoretical scenarios have indeed predicted X-ray emissions associated to compact binary coalescences (especially involving neutron stars). Therefore, with possible detections in coincidence with gravitational waves, THESEUS would have the capabilities of playing a key role in determining which of the proposed models (if any), well suits the reality.

Finally as part of LIGO, I also kept being involved in the general wok of parameter estimation for gravitational waves emitted by compact binaries by attending call and conferences, presenting the multi-banding algorithm (which is now ready for being reviewed) and by running some PE analysis for the second observing period O2 of the two LIGO interferometers.

Inside the LIGO community I have also I have been elected as student representative in the LAAC (LIGO Academic Affair Council), where I am collaborating in divulging activities, available material and organising the LAAC sessions during the LVC meetings.

Inside the LVC, as student representative, I have also started thinking about how will be possible to involve more students and young postdocs in the collaboration work. Indeed it feels to me that connections between senior people and students are often lacking.

I am thinking of promoting the development of a summary page for the day, containing the main news concerning the collaboration. In fact at the moment the most efficient way for following updates is following the enormous amount of emails that are exchanged within the different working groups, which usually ends up with discussions between few people, and anyway are hard to follow (given the quantities).

With all these activities going on, I am “slowly” arriving to the end of my PhD and to my stay in Birmingham.  Working here has been a bit harder than I expected, but it has deeply enriched me.

Also, by understanding the aspects of this experience that I have liked and the ones I haven’t, it also helped me realising which environments better fit my needs and make me more productive (and happy), clarifying what I should looking for in future research opportunities.

I am sure GraWIToN will have a great impact on my future, because of what it formally is and also the experiences that I have gained from it, including the connections I have made. Indeed I have really enjoyed the possibility of collaborating with different groups and working with competent and extraordinary people, as I did during my secondment.

In the end, I still have a lot of work to do before the end, but knowing how fast time runs in these situations, I am sure, another blink of the eyes won’t be able to pass before the end of this adventure.

Nevertheless, the end of a season always means the beginning of another one!

So while I believe it’s normal to feel a bit nostalgic for the experiences that the GraWIToN project has brought us and that will stop, I am excited to see what will happen next! What are going to be the news of the upcoming months, how my life will change, where I am going to be, which new people I am going to meet and what I am going to do!


See you soon in the WORLD!





Multiple detection of gravitational waves from Binary Black Holes mergers has opened up new possibilities for observational black hole astronomy, one of the major astrophysical results will be understanding how these binary black holes are formed in the astrophysical environments, to do this the parameters of the black holes observed will be necessary, these parameters can be information about the masses, spins and also the orbit of the system.  My phd thesis is devoted to search for binary black holes with eccentric orbits detectable in the current ground based interferometers. This will be the first observational results for such sources. The phd thesis for this is expected to be submitted by the end of this year and the defence is planned in March-April 2018, this thesis will be accompanied by the observational paper on the first and second run of LIGO interferometers.  

End of the last year there was a project management GraWITon school in Pisa, covering various aspects of project management in scientific research, then I went to Brussels to give a talk about the detection of gravitational waves for the occasion of 20 years anniversary of MSCA.
Since the beginning of this year I was fortunate to have multiple opportunities to give talks, and have collaborations around Europe, I gave a talk in EPS-HEP 2017 in Venice, also gave a talk in LVC meeting in Geneva CERN 2017 about the updates on eccentric black hole binary search. I went for a secondment in AEI, Hannover in Germany for three months to understand how eccentricity effects the modelled searches, I also went to Zurich, Switzerland to understand better the effects of eccentricity on the gravitational waves emissions and how the knowledge of the morphology of the waveforms can help the un-modelled searches.  

MSCA programs provides the opportunity to collaborate with research group across countries, this fact is already very important for scientific research but it becomes even more important and almost necessary inside a scientific collaboration like LIGO-VIRGO. These collaborations not only lead to new ideas and accelerated research but also creates an opportunity for active participation in the cutting edge research. This program has motivated me and provided me with a lot of experience and training in the field and has also exposed me to various research cultures, this has been a very enriching experience on both professional and personal level.

Time flies. It's approaching the end of the third year of my Ph.D program. In the past year, the secondment, thesis preparation, and some other works made me do not have so much time to be out of the office.

In April, after some discussions, I got an opportunity to go to Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Hannover to fulfill my secondment. I stayed there for three months which from the beginning of May to the beginning of the August. It was a joyful and fruitful in those three months. During those three months, I investigated the matter effects on the binary neutron star search in the advanced LIGO first observing run. And we achieved a novel tidal template bank to explore the improvement of the binary neutron star search. The result was shown by a poster during the LIGO-Virgo meeting at CERN, Switzerland in August 2017. Hopefully, it could be useful to the further binary neutron star search.

Since I am targeting to accomplish my Ph.D program on time, as my school, Gran Sasso Science Institute required, I submitted my thesis in the middle of August in this year. I reported three of my works in my thesis. The first one is the new template bank for binary neutron stars search which I achieved during the secondment. The second one is a GW + EM multi-messenger simulation I developed to investigate the possible scenarios for the future binary neutron stars detections from gravitational wave and Gamma-ray/X-ray radiation. And the third one is a study for the orbit optimization and time delay interferometry simulation for new LISA and LISA-like space missions. Now my thesis is under review. In this meanwhile, I need to polish my thesis writing. Hopefully, my thesis could be accepted by the referees.

Besides the secondment and thesis, there are some other works and training I was involved in. During the advanced LIGO's second observing run from November 2016 to August 2017, I was recruited as an EM follow-up advocate to promptly respond to the triggers generated by the gravitational wave detectors with others three advocates. I was on duty for four weeks during the run. It was a nervous and exciting experience since we need to very cautiously check the information of a GW trigger and send it to the EM telescope partners. On the other hand, it was so exhilarating because we are the earliest group people who could receive the new GW triggers notifications, and a significant trigger could be a genuine gravitational wave detection.

Succeeding the first GraWIToN data analysis training school, I attended the second data analysis training in Roma during October 24th-28th, 2016. That school focused on the continuous gravitational wave and stochastic background gravitational wave data analysis. Moreover, during November 21st-25th, 2016, I also attended the Project Management and Communication training school at EGO which focused on the project management skills. In September 2017, I participated in the Einstein Telescope Design Update Workshop which was hosted by University of Glasgow. I reported my thesis status during the final GraWIToN evaluation. It was joyful to met other GraWIToN colleagues again in Glasgow. However, it should be also the last occasion to meet others together. Good luck to everyone and wish the promising career to everybody.

Marina Trad Nery
Marina Trad Nery

Time for the last GraWIToN newsletter! I am on a very exciting period on my PhD: my theoretical investigations on new schemes for laser power stabilization had come to an end, and right now I am setting up a new experiment in the lab in which I will use radiation pressure to sense laser power fluctuations. Since I want to measure really small power fluctuations, I will work with a very tiny movable mirror (only 100 um of diameter!!!), which makes this experiment quite challenging. To isolate the cantilever against air fluctuations and vibrations, the experiment will be setup in a vacuum chamber, which I am carefully preparing right now, as you can see on the picture! The design of the experiment is finished and now I am starting to assemble all the components. My plan is to finish assembling the setup until the end of this year, and start doing measurements early next year, where I will be able to tackle noise sources and work on improvements, until end of 2018, when I plan to finish my PhD.


Apart from my thesis work, I have been involved in some teaching activities in my institute, which was quite fun. But the big event for me this year was to go to the Amaldi Conference in Pasadena! It was a special conference because I could learn about so many different works in the field of gravitational waves, not only experimental, but also theoretical, and all by the most expert people on the area. I also had to chance to visit the Caltech campus and listen to an inspiring talk given by Gabriela González!

The training schools from GraWIToN are now over, and we had our last school on the topic of Project Management, which is quite important in our field. This last school happened where we grawitons met for the first time: in Pisa, Italy. Is very hard not to get emotional now, since I had to say goodbye to all this great people that I met and in the end became good friends of mine. Many good memories will stay with me, and I hope to meet them again soon.

I would like to finish my newsletter by saying how great was to be a part of the GraWItoN program and be funded by the Marie Curie fellowship. All the support given by the funding of this position made my move to Germany so easy and it allowed me to setup my experiment with all the necessary components that I need. The position contributed on a singular way to my career, not only for the excellent formation from the schools and training activities, but also for the networking and the opportunities to work outside my host institution.  


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