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Davide Lazzati sitting in office.

Astrophysicist wins award for revolutionary research and international collaboration

By Hannah Ashton

Department of Physics Head Davide Lazzati has received an international award for his revolutionary paper on gamma-ray bursts and neutron star mergers.

Lazzati and his seven collaborators received the Aspen Institute Italia Award for scientific research and collaboration between Italy and the U.S. The award ceremony was held Sept. 20 and included members of the Italian government.

His paper analyzed a binary neutron star merger that occurred on August 17, 2017, called GW170817, and the resulting gamma-ray burst (GRB). Typically disappearing after a few seconds, the cause of GRBs has been a mystery, perplexing the scientific community for decades.

While it was hypothesized neuron star mergers could cause GRBs, the burst seen after GW170817 was fainter than predicted and the afterglow increased in brightness overtime.

Lazzati and his colleagues were able to predict that a neutron star merger creating an astrophysical jet, or collimated energy flow, pointed at 30 degrees, would create a GRB matching the data from GW170817.

The findings, published in Physical Review Letters, explained the angle caused the unexpected observations.

“In the coming years, the gravitational wave and electromagnetic observation of many more neutron star mergers will allow for major steps forward in our understanding of these events and their extreme physical conditions,” the institute said in a press release. “In this new journey, this winning research project will remain a reference point, while representing, more in general, a milestone in the field of relativistic astrophysics.”

Lazzati was happy he could share this award with his collaborators.

“It celebrates working with other people and not just a single person’s accomplishment. Modern research is not about individuals anymore and individual prizes can be outdated,” he said.