Nergis Mavalvala is the associate head of the Department of Physics and the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at MIT. She is a physicist whose research focuses on the detection of gravitational waves from violent events in the cosmos that warp and ripple the fabric of spacetime. She is part of the scientific team that in early 2016 announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors. This breakthrough ushers in a new era of astrophysics, allowing observations of the violent and warped universe not visible with light. In addition to her work on developing technologies for gravitational wave detectors since her graduate student years in the 1990s, Mavalvala has also conducted pioneering experiments in the optical trapping and cooling of mirrors to enable observation of quantum phenomena in macroscopic objects. She is the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Mavalvala earned a B.A. in physics and astronomy from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

Born: 1968

Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan

Education: Ph.D. in Physics

Occupation: Astrophysicist; 1st woman Dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Best Discoveries: A pioneer in the detection of gravitational waves and of quantum measurement science, Nergis helped develop the gravitational-wave detector technologies that are at the heart of Laser Intereformeter Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and discoveries that earned the 2017 Nobel prize in Physics


Advice: We think that when we make a discovery, we’ve answered a question; but almost always what we’ve done is pose a new question.