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February 2008

Distinguished Professor: John Friedman

He has made a significant impact on the fields of gravitational physics and relativistic astrophysics.

By Peter Hansen

Saying the young John Friedman's future was in the stars isn't just a bad pun: As he began his graduate studies at the University of Chicago in 1967, the first observation of a neutron star by British researchers was inspiring a renaissance in the field of relativity. The existence of extremely dense objects—such as neutron stars, which are remnants of massive stars they after exhaust their energy—would be required to help prove Einstein's famous theory, which describes gravity as the curvature or warping of space due to the presence of matter. Neutron stars weigh as much as the sun but are only a few miles in diameter.

Friedman has since achieved wide recognition for his research into the astrophysics of neutron stars, quantum field theory in curved space-time, quantum gravity, topological issues in gravity and, most recently, the collision of binary neutron stars.

In graduate school, Friedman studied with Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who in the 1930s predicted the existence of neutron stars, and in 1970 discovered that neutron stars have fundamental instability and oscillate due to effects of general relativity.

Friedman's further study of this phenomenon led to his name being added to it: the Chandrasekhar-Friedman-Schutz (or CFS) Instability.

In the 1990s, Friedman was among the first to compute the frequencies and growth rates of these movements.

"His path-breaking research on the instabilities of rapidly rotating neutron stars has been highly influential," writes fellow UWM Distinguished Professor of Physics Leonard Parker. "Such instabilities produce gravitational waves that may one day be detected by the network of gravitational wave observatories that are beginning to search for gravitational waves from astronomical objects." Parker and Friedman were the nucleus around which the Center For Gravitation And Cosmology at UWM was formed in 19__.

Friedman has received continuous funding from the National Science Foundation since 1974 and has attracted nearly $5 million in extramural research funding to UWM, either as a primary researcher or collaborator.

Another testament to the influence of his work, Friedman's over 100 publications have been cited in other scholarly papers nearly 2,500 times.

Friedman is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a former chair of its gravitational physics section. He has edited prestigious journals, is currently a U.S. representative to the International Society of General Relativity and Gravitation, and was honored at "Friedman Fest" during the 2005 Midwest Relativity Meeting in Oakland, Michigan.

Page last updated on: 01/29/2014