2020 Killam Postdoctoral Fellow Research Prize recipient Dr. Miriam Cabero Müller has developed a new machine learning framework for astronomers to quickly identify real gravitational-wave signals from false alarms caused by detector noise.
One of the consequences of Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, General Relativity, is the emission of gravitational waves by massive accelerating objects. These waves are tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime that propagate at the speed of light. When two massive objects are orbiting each other, they emit gravitational waves and, consequently, get closer together until they merge. My research focus is on studying collisions of black holes and neutron stars through their gravitational-wave signature. Under certain circumstances involving complicated matter dynamics, these collisions also emit electromagnetic light and neutrinos that can be observed by telescopes after the gravitational-wave signal is detected. At UBC, I have developed a new machine learning framework for astronomers to quickly identify real gravitational-wave signals from false alarms caused by detector noise. This framework optimizes how telescope time is invested in following up gravitational-wave sources, increasing the likelihood of observing the radiation emitted after the merger of black holes and neutron stars. With more joint observations of gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation or neutrinos, we will be able to advance our knowledge on the physics of extremely dense matter, the origin of heavy elements, and the rate of expansion of the Universe.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
UBC was starting a research group on gravitational-wave astrophysics and both my partner and I got offered positions within this new group. It was an exceptional opportunity for both of us to continue our research in the same city, and to contribute to the growth of this field of research at UBC. The proximity to the coast was also an additional advantage because I missed living near the ocean.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
UBC offers lots of opportunities for networking and a great professional development program for postdoctoral fellows. I would recommend taking advantage of these opportunities to grow professionally, learn and develop new skills, and network with other postdocs. Research is very important, but there is a lot happening outside of the lab!
What do you like to do for fun?
Hiking, camping and swimming in the ocean are my favourite activities during the sunny weather months. In the winter time, I spend more time indoors reading or crafting. If you take me to a book store or a craft store, be ready to spend hours in there! I also enjoy bird watching and photography, both in the winter and the summer.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
The support I receive from my supervisor to develop my mentorship and leadership skills, and the ability to take more control over my own research projects. I also enjoy the opportunity to work at such a prestigious university as UBC and to live in the beautiful Vancouver area.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
Receiving the Killam Postdoctoral Fellow Research Prize is a great honour and I am extremely grateful for this recognition. This prestigious award is an inspiring achievement for my research that will expand my career opportunities in Canada. It is encouraging that my work has been selected as a highlight of outstanding research at UBC and it provides a much needed confidence boost.
What do you think the next step in your career will be?
It is always hard to say, but even more now given the current pandemic situation. I am applying for jobs and fellowships this year and I hope to stay in the Vancouver area for a few more years.