Robert Coyne ’07, MS ’11 turned his childhood curiosity with the stars into a career in a new era of astronomy.
Coyne, who today is a physics lecturer at the University of Rhode Island, changed majors from computer engineering and then electrical engineering before settling on physics and identifying what would become his true passion: gravity. He credits his mentor, Physics Professor Gaurav Khanna, with motivating him to study gravitational wave astronomy.
“Professor Khanna nurtured my enthusiasm for the subject and supervised a capstone project that I would pivot into my first research project in graduate school,” he said.
Coyne pursued a master’s degree in physics at UMassD, studying experimental nuclear science. That drove him to focus on astronomy, and he went on to earn a PhD in physics at George Washington University.
As an astronomer, Coyne studies small fluctuations in gravity called gravitational waves—small “ripples” in the fabric of space that carry information about the motion of massive, far away things that we cannot see, like black holes. Coyne describes gravitational waves as our “ears” for perceiving the universe, in the same way that telescopes serve as our “eyes.”
Coyne recently gained membership into an exclusive group of colleagues at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), whose advancements in detection methods have made new observations of gravitational waves in the universe possible.
“My road to studying astronomy was meandering, but now I am privileged to be on the cutting edge of a new way to view the universe,” he said.
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