University of Pittsburgh
October 13, 1998


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 14 -- Luis Lehner, a recent graduate from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh, is the winner of the 1999 Nicholas Metropolis Award for outstanding doctoral thesis work in computational physics, presented by the American Physical Society (APS).

Lehner, a native of Argentina who received his Ph.D. from Pitt at the end of the spring 1998 term, was selected "for developing a method that significantly advances the capability for modeling gravitational radiation by making possible the stable numerical solution of Einstein's equation near moving black holes," according to the award citation.

While at Pitt, Lehner worked on a team headed by Jeffrey Winicour that is trying to construct a computational model of gravitational waves from moving black holes. The work is associated with one of the "Grand Challenges" of physics and the development of the Laser Interferometric Gravity Observatory (LIGO), a project of the National Science Foundation, now under construction in the states of Washington and Louisiana.

Instruments like LIGO will benefit from computational models, said Lehner, because detecting gravitational waves is an expensive and complex undertaking. "Unfortunately, not only are these signals extremely weak, but the detectors will receive them along with 'background noise,' or waves of a different nature, like seismic, thermal, radio waves, etc., that will make detection incredibly difficult. Having a description of what the gravitational signal should look like will expedite its search and analysis."

"This award is given by the computational physics division of the APS," said Winicour. "Most scientists in that division are involved in fluid dynamics, so for them to make this award to someone working in astrophysics and relativity theory is quite a surprise."

Now in a post-doctoral position at the University of Texas, Lehner describes his time at Pitt as very rewarding. "I was able to interact with an excellent group in general relativity which let me grow both as a physicist and as a person. First and foremost with Jeffrey Winicour, my advisor. He encouraged me to try my best and patiently directed me to find the answers to my problems. I also had the pleasure to work with Dr. Roberto Gomez, professor Winicour's right hand, who possesses the valuable combination of physics insight and computational expertise."

The Nicholas Metropolis Award is named for the pioneer mathematician who, along with John von Neumann and others, developed the use of ENIAC, the first working digital computer, to solve complex problems in physics.