Campus News

Thomas Baumgarte Awarded 2004 Guggenheim Fellowship

Story posted April 26, 2004

Thomas W. Baumgarte, Bowdoin College assistant professor of physics and astronomy, has been awarded a 2004 Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Baumgarte's Fellowship will support his efforts to construct computer simulations of gravitational waves.

In his Fellowship statement, Baumgarte describes his research as focusing on general relativity and relativistic astrophysics, particularly "compact binaries" – star systems made up of two black holes and/or neutron stars. While black holes and neutron stars have been predicted theoretically, and strong observational evidence exists, they remain mysterious objects, even within our own galaxy.

Einstein's theory of general relativity is the currently accepted theory of gravity. It predicts the existence of gravitational waves – small "ripples" that travel through the fabric of space and time. These waves have yet to be observed directly.

Observing and detecting these waves requires accurate theoretical models of possible gravitational wave signals. In Baumgarte's research, he constructs such theoretical models on state-of-the-art supercomputers, writing programs that find numerical solutions to Einstein's equations of general relativity that model black hole and neutron star binaries, the most promising sources of gravitational waves.

The Guggenheim Fellowship will support Baumgarte's research on mixed black-hole-neutron-star binaries, which he hopes will lead to the first theoretical models of such binaries in full general relativity. Computations will be carried out on supercomputers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, as well as on computers at Bowdoin.

Baumgarte earned his diplom in physics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in 1993, and prepared his thesis at Max-Planck-Institute für Astrophysik. He went on to earn his doctorate in physics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in 1995, winning a fellowship that also allowed him to do research at Cornell University. He then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, working in the research group of Stuart Shapiro.

His desire to teach excellent undergraduate students and introduce them to the excitement of research led him to pursue a career teaching at a liberal arts college. He came to Bowdoin in 2001. He continues to collaborate with researchers at the University of Illinois, where he is also adjunct assistant professor. He has also involved Bowdoin undergraduates in his research, and has published several articles with undergraduate co-authors.

Results of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation's 80th annual United States and Canadian competition were announced April 8 by Foundation president Edward Hirsch. This year's Fellowship winners include 185 artists, scholars, and scientists selected from over 3,200 applicants for awards totaling $6,912,000.

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

Decisions are based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors and are approved by the Foundation's Board of Trustees, which includes seven members who are themselves past Fellows of the Foundation-Joel Conarroe, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard A. Rifkind, Charles A. Ryskamp, Wendy Wasserstein, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and Edward Hirsch.

The new Fellows include writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, film makers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists, social scientists, and scholars in the humanities.

Since 1925 the Guggenheim Foundation has granted more than $230 million in Fellowships to over 15,500 individuals. Scores of Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer and other prize winners appear on the roll of Fellows, which includes Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Paul Samuelson, Martha Graham, Philip Roth, Derek Walcott, James Watson, and Eudora Welty.

Information for this story courtesy of For the full list of year 2004 Fellows click here.

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