Astronomy student gets ten for thesis: ‘Media attention is a bit exaggerated’

Arend Moerman, an astronomy student from Leiden, received ten prizes Master’s Where it explores the interaction between three simulated black holes. It happens on average once every ten years that an astronomy student gets a ten. The results were also published in the leading journal Physical Review D.

He himself draws attention in recent days to “a bit exaggerated.” But the publication of the results of a master’s thesis is exceptional. “It doesn’t happen very often,” says his thesis supervisor and numerical star dynamics professor Simon Porteges Zwart on the radio show. Tomorrow’s goal.

“I thought I’d get a pass, but I didn’t get ten.” Moorman spent nine months on his research. To predict interactions between three celestial bodies such as stars, planets, or black holes, he programmed code that calculated what was happening for a short period of time, and then used that result to calculate the next time period. A similar method is also used to make weather forecasts.

Add the theory of relativity

“We had a problem where the three black holes move around each other, but do not interact according to Newton’s theory, but according to Einstein’s theory of relativity,” Porteges Zwart says. “That’s when Arend walked into my room and asked if I could have an assignment for him where he could program, and he started working on it like a crazy dog.”

A month later, Moerman returned to Portegies Zwart. He not only learned the language of the code, but also found a way to add the relativity component to the code, which makes the simulation more accurate. The theory of relativity plays a major role in heavy objects such as black holes.

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turning point

This gave rise to the possibility of investigating how, for example, black holes of different masses behave towards each other. “Typically two of the three wormholes fly apart, and the two form a pair. We simulated this with increasingly heavier masses, and at ten million solar masses the two started merging together rather than repelling,” Moorman says.

He himself had not yet realized that he had discovered something new. “I was very glued to my screen.” After seeing these results, Portegies Zwart said, “We need to publish this.”

In his view, Moerman’s work provides more insight into the tipping point in the dynamics in which lighter holes fly apart and merge into very large black holes. “I really couldn’t help but give a ten,” Portegies Zwart says.

As long as it’s not a desk job

As a result of the investigation and the media attention that followed, Moorman was contacted several times by recruiters. But he doesn’t see himself working for a boss atcorner-Desk “.” Doing what I find useful and enjoyable is most important to me. “

He is now starting his second graduation project and works in a bistro kitchen. “If it doesn’t work out in academia, I can always become a chef. As long as it’s not a desk job.”

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