Paul T. Baker, PhD
- Assistant Professor of Physics
- Science & Environment
Programs I Teach
- PhD, Physics (2013)
Montana State University (MT)
- MS, Physics (2008)
Montana State University (MT)
- BA, Physics (2006)
Reed College (OR)
I'm a physicist interested detecting and characterizing gravitational waves. My data analysis research combines methods from physics, astronomy, computing, and statistics.
My research interests include gravitational wave data analysis, Bayesian statistical techniques, astrophysics, astrostatistics, and general relativity.
Professional Affiliations & Memberships
- North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational waves (NANOGrav)
- International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA)
- American Physical Society
- American Astronomical Society
- Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, LIGO Scientific Collaboration, (2016)
In the Media
- Physics Professor Co-Publishes Article Detailing Evidence Hinting at Gravitational Waves
Paul Baker, assistant professor of physics, joined an international team of astronomers in publishing results of a comprehensive search for a background of low-frequency gravitational waves. Gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime itself, permeate all spacetime and could originate from mergers of the most massive black holes in the universe or from events occurring soon after the formation of the universe in the Big Bang.
The work of the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA) collaboration is described in an article accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The IPTA is a consortium of several astrophysics collaborations from around the world: the European Pulsar Timing Array, the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), which Baker is a member of, the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array in Australia, and the Indian Pulsar Timing Array Project, its newest member.
“These results make a very promising step in our continued efforts to detect low-frequency gravitational waves,” said Baker, who is co-chair of the IPTA’s gravitational wave analysis working group.
Baker led an extensive comparison between the IPTA data set and other recent data sets from the large regional scientific collaborations as part of this work.
“The combined IPTA data set, which uses older data, is just as sensitive as the newest data from its individual members. This demonstrates what can be gained scientifically by working together,” said Baker, who joined the IPTA in 2016.
- Physics Professor Partially Funded by National Science Foundation Grant for NANOGrav
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has renewed its support of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) with a $17 million grant over 5 years to operate the NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center. Dr. Paul Baker, an assistant professor of physics at Widener University, is partially funded by this award as a member of NANOGrav.
The NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center will address a transformational challenge in astrophysics: the detection and characterization of low-frequency gravitational waves. The most promising sources of low-frequency gravitational waves are supermassive binary black holes that form via the mergers of massive galaxies.
NANOGrav was founded in 2007 and is now a highly-distributed collaboration with around 200 students and scientists at about 40 institutions around the world. Dr. Baker has been a member of NANOGrav since 2016.
For more information, visit NANOGrav’s website at: http://nanograv.org/press/2021/06/21/NSF_Funds_NANOGrav_PFC.html
- Physics Professors’ Research Finds Possible ‘First Hints’ of Low-Frequency Gravitational Waves
Dr. Paul Baker, an assistant professor of physics, co-authored an article in The Astrophysical Journal Letters based on data gathered and analyzed over 13 years by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav). The published findings, “The NANOGrav 12.5-year Data Set: Search For An Isotropic Stochastic Gravitational-Wave Background,” shows an intriguing low-frequency signal that may be attributable to gravitational waves from merging supermassive black holes in other galaxies.
NANOGrav researchers studying the signals from distant pulsars – small, dense stars that rapidly rotate, emitting beamed radio waves, much like a lighthouse – have used radio telescopes to collect data that may indicate the effects of gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time caused by the movements of incredibly massive objects, such as black holes orbiting each other or neutron stars colliding. Astronomers cannot observe these waves with a telescope like they do stars and galaxies. Instead, they measure the effects passing gravitational waves have, namely tiny changes to the precise position of objects - including the position of the Earth.
But gravitational waves can interrupt this observed regularity, as the ripples cause space-time to undergo tiny amounts of stretching and shrinking. Those ripples result in extremely small deviations in the expected times for pulsar signals arriving on Earth. Such deviations indicate that the position of the Earth has shifted slightly.
By studying the timing of the regular signals from many pulsars scattered over the sky at the same time, known as a “pulsar timing array,” NANOGrav works to detect minute changes in the Earth’s position due to gravitational waves stretching and shrinking space-time.
These newest findings set up direct detection of gravitational waves as the possible next major step for NANOGrav and other members of the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA), a collaboration of researchers using the world’s largest radio telescope. Baker has been a member of NANOGrav since 2016.