A Postcard From: Hannah Griggs ’18

Name: Hannah Griggs
Class Year: 2018
Major: Physics, Math
Hometown: Vienna, Va.

On a weekend trip to Barcelona, Spain.

Leibniz Universität

Internship Placement: Max Planck Institut für Gravitationsphysik (Albert Einstein Institute)
Job Title: Observation-based Relativity and Cosmology Group Intern
Location: Hanover, Germany

What’s happening at your internship?

My team and I work with developing programs for estimating the parameters of black hole systems that collide and produce gravitational waves large enough for LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) to detect on Earth. That includes estimating things like the masses of the coalescing and final black holes, their spins, their distance from us, and much more. The specific project we have for this summer is to work on developing a method of determining whether or not those black holes (and potentially neutron stars!) exist in triple systems. A third massive object in the coalescing black holes’ system would result in an acceleration of the black holes which would produce a phase shift in the gravitational waves that we detect on Earth. We would be able to see such a shift by computationally predicting potential Doppler effects, as an example of physical effects we should be able to detect. Our predictions will be combined into existing LIGO data analysis code to make overall analysis more robust.

Why did you apply for this internship?

Fall semester of last year, I went to a physics colloquium at Haverford given by Rashid Sunyaev, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics. The talk was not only very fun, but it also gave me the idea to look abroad for internship opportunities. As a double STEM major, going abroad is difficult, so I loved the idea of not only doing great research through the Max Planck society, but also being able to do it while in Germany. Combined with my love for astrophysics and my interest in cutting-edge research, the gravitational physics branch of the MPS was the perfect fit. Gravitational astrophysics is an exciting field and I am so excited to have a chance to learn more about it here at the AEI and improve my computational skills.

Living in a new city? What has that experience been like for you?

Living in Hanover is exciting for me because not only is it a fascinating city, but it’s central location makes traveling very easy. I have the opportunity to see so much of Europe that I never thought I would. Especially interesting has been several of the smaller towns in Germany like Goslar, which I would have had to overlook if I didn’t have a full summer to work with.  On the other hand, I came here with pretty much zero knowledge of German, which has presented some challenges. I have found the people in Germany to be very accommodating, however, and willing to help me learn. Overall, I am already very glad that I decided to take this risk and it has been paying off since the moment I got here.

What is most rewarding about your internship?

I am learning much more about computer science than I ever thought I would. The new computational and gravitational physics skills that I am developing along with starting to understand some German have been some of the most satisfying aspects of my internship experience. I think the most rewarding thing is the feeling of being able to understand something that was completely foreign to me just a few weeks ago. Not to mention, the community of the institute is very tight-knit, making my transition to working here very smooth and the overall social environment super rewarding. It’s given me so many great new friends and travel buddies that will make the rest of my experience here increasingly fulfilling.