Physics at Virginia

David Nichols

Ph.D., 2012, California Institute of Technology
Assistant Professor

Theoretical Astrophysics, Gravity and Cosmology

Research Interests

Gravitational waves from the mergers of several stellar-mass black-hole and neutron-star binaries have now been detected by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations. These observations have opened a new method for observing the Universe. With them, and the many detections that are expected to follow in the upcoming years, one can now study the properties of strongly gravitating objects and rapidly changing space and time. Determining the predictions of Einstein's theory of relativity for these systems and understanding how these predictions can be extracted from gravitational-wave measurements are the main areas of my research. In the past few years, I have focused primarily in the following three aspects of this field:

  1. I am interested in a class of gravitational-wave effects that persist even after a burst of gravitational waves have passed. Called "gravitational-wave memory effects" or "persistent gravitational-wave observables," these phenomena are closely connected to the symmetries and conserved quantities of spacetimes that become flat asymptotically. I have worked on understanding these effects, computing their magnitudes from astrophysical binaries, and forecasting when they could be measured by gravitational-wave detectors.
  2. I have also been investigating when the presence of dark matter around intermediate-mass or supermassive black holes can influence the inspiral of a second small compact object (a so-called intermediate- or extreme-mass-ratio inspiral). My collaborators and I have found scenarios in which these environmental effects can be significant, primarily because of a dissipative effect called dynamical friction and because of accretion of dark matter onto the secondary (when the secondary is a black hole).
  3. I am interested in combining information from gravitational-wave mergers of neutron stars with the complementary information from their associated electromagnetic counterparts. I have focused primarily on the radio and x-ray observations of short-gamma-ray-burst afterglows and kilonova afterglows, although I am interested more generally in counterparts of any wavelength.

My webpage contains more information about my past and current research.

Selected Publications

News Items

Dear Friends, It gives me great pleasure to announce this morning’s drop of the HOOS in STEM episode “UVA’s Physicists are studying Black Holes and Unraveling ......More >
David Nichols is a recipient of a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award for the 2021-2022 academic year.  ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities) has awarded the competitive ......More >


ORAU Ralph E. Powe Award [2021]