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Astrophysicist Awarded 2024 Sloan Research Fellowship

Early Career Award Will Help Enable Study of Black Holes, Neutron Stars

By Emily C. Nunez

Toll Physics Building exterior

Sasha Philippov, below, a UMD researcher studying black holes and other mysterious objects in space, has been recognized as one of the top-early career scientists in the U.S. and Canada.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

A University of Maryland astrophysicist working to explain some of the mysteries of deep space received a 2024 Sloan Research Fellowship, one of the most competitive and prestigious honors awarded to early-career scientists.

Physics Assistant Professor Sasha Philippov is one of 126 scientists in the United States and Canada recognized by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for demonstrating “the potential to revolutionize their fields of study.” Since the fellowship was introduced in 1955, 71 UMD faculty members have earned the distinction.

Sasha Philippov headshot

The two-year, $75,000 fellowship will enable Philippov to delve deeper into the study of plasmas—hot, ionized gas that surrounds neutron stars and black holes, which he describes as “some of the most mysterious and exotic objects in the universe.”

He’ll also investigate magnetars, neutron stars with the strongest magnetic fields in the universe, using advanced 3D simulations to better understand the powerful magnetic flares that occur when pulsars release magnetic energy.

Since joining UMD in 2022, Philippov has used simulations to show the production of gamma-ray flares from the black hole in galaxy M87, which was the first black hole to be pictured. He also demonstrated how kinetic effects change the flow of plasma and produced proof-of-concept simulations of radiative plasma turbulence.

Philippov said he is excited to study the phenomena that help “illuminate” objects like black holes, which do not emit light on their own.

“We haven’t learned much about black holes themselves yet, but we are able to learn a lot about how they shine,” Philippov said of the study of plasmas surrounding black holes. “Our goal is to understand how all the emission that we see is produced. We can see it, but we cannot really explain why and how, so that’s the underlying question.”

Philippov serves as deputy director of a Simons Foundation project called the Simons Collaboration on Extreme Electrodynamics of Compact Sources that models electrodynamic processes related to neutron stars and black holes.

Philippov, who holds a Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences from Princeton, was previously named a NASA Einstein and Theoretical Astrophysics Center Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship. Philippov then worked as an associate research scientist at the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute, where he constructed the first models capable of explaining the mysterious coherent emission of pulsars—magnetized neutron stars that rapidly rotate.

Sloan Research Fellows are nominated by other scientists and selected by independent panels of senior scholars. Philippov was nominated by Eliot Quataert, a theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University who said that Philippov’s research “stands out” from his peers covering similar topics.

“Sasha has a combination of physical intuition, physics depth, code development skills and computational acumen that is characteristic of the very best computational astrophysicists I have interacted with in my career,” Quataert said.



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