South Asian women are making headlines again — this time on space. Pakistani-American Quantum Astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala, the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Associate Head of the Physics Department is a member of the team of scientists that discovered gravitational waves.
The announcement on Thursday was a scientific breakthrough, since the waves are small ripples in space and time that physicist Albert Einstein only theorized a century ago.
Born into a Parsi family in Karachi, Mavalvala has an impressive set of credentials, with a Bachelor’s Degree from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. from MIT in Physics and Astronomy. She has been involved with research using the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) since 2002.
These two lasers that detect minuscule vibrations in gravitational waves are responsible for the scientific milestone. With the knowledge of these waves, scientists like Mavalvala can look deeper into the mysteries of objects like neutron stars and black holes, which have been difficult to detect and study on the intermediate scale until now.
She was already the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010, and her team deserves to be considered for the Nobel Prize, according to Professor Karsten Danzmann, from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz University in Germany. This is an honor Pakistan has received twice in 2014 by Malala Yousafzai and 1979 by Abdus Salam — only once in physics.
Pakistani American girls in physics like me are totally standing with you! Keep inspiring us all to push past ourselves, our countries and even the world.