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UvA physicists Gianfranco Bertone and Samaya Nissanke have received an NWO ENW-M2 grant for their research project ‘Searching for dark matter with gravitational waves’. The grant allows them to create a small team of researchers to develop new methods to distinguish different possible forms of dark matter.

black hole with dark matter
Artist's impression of a black hole surrounded by dark matter. Credit: G. Bertone; background image adapted from the Millennium Run by Springel et al. (2004).

In 2017, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the direct detection of gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime produced by the merger of compact astronomical objects like black holes or neutron stars. This major breakthrough has opened up new opportunities for fundamental physics that go far beyond the study of compact objects. In particular, present and upcoming gravitational wave interferometers offer unprecedented possibilities for unraveling the nature of the mysterious dark matter that appears to permeate the universe on all scales. Dark matter is known to exist in one form or another – we see its gravitational effects everywhere in the universe on the scale of galaxies and beyond – but its fundamental nature remains unknown.

In their proposal, Gianfranco Bertone and Samaya Nissanke – leading experts on dark matter and gravitational waves – propose new methods to robustly discriminate gravitational wave signatures of dark matter from other astrophysical signals. With the team of two additional scientific researchers that the ENW-M grant allows them to set up, the grant makes it possible to infer dark matter models and parameters from upcoming gravitational wave interferometers, paving the way for searches that will be performed with the LISA space interferometer over the next decade. This will allow the team to get closer to solve one of the biggest mysteries of the Universe: ‘What is dark matter?’