Steve Liebling: In With a Big Bang Theory

By Chloé MargulisScreen Shot 2015-03-31 at 19.39.49
Staff Writer

Steve Liebling, a professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the winner of the 2014 Buchalter Cosmology Prize. This prize was created by Dr. Ari Buchalter to spur new cosmology research.

Cosmology is the science of the origin and development of the universe. Submitters enter papers they have written or nominate the work of other authors. Liebling co-authored, with Carroll Wainwright, Matthew Johnson, Hiranya Peiris, Anthony Aguirre, and Luis Lehner, the paper that was nominated, titled “Simulating the Universe(s): from Cosmic Bubble Collisions to Cosmological Observables with Numerical Relativity.”

This paper is built upon the theory that our universe is one among many in a multiverse. Liebling and his co-authors presented the idea that another universe collided with ours billions of years ago. Through their research, they were able to quantify effects that experiments would be able to search for to potentially provide evidence for another universe’s existence.

Liebling began this project when he was on sabbatical in Canada, during the 2012 spring semester, and continued working on it while participating in a Cambridge University workshop with Stephen Hawking in March 2014. “The award is a nice feather-in-my-cap and it’s always nice to be recognized for one’s work,” Liebling said.

Liebling graduated from Brown University as a physics major. Since Liebling could remember, he has been fascinated by cosmology and black holes. He didn’t think he would become a physics teacher at first.

“When I was graduating college, I sought out various jobs (computer programmer, high school teacher, etc.) at the same time I was applying to physics Ph.D. programs,” Liebling said. “I didn’t get any jobs, so off to graduate school I went, at the University of Texas at Austin.” After graduating from the University of Texas, he decided to become a physics teacher.

At LIU Post, Liebling teaches intro and advanced physics classes, and occasionally the honors astronomy course. He doesn’t quote one specific class as his favorite, because it all boils down to the students’ involvement.

“I am not sure that students appreciate how much their participation and questions really affect how enjoyable the class is,” he said. His favorite classes are those in which the students share their genuine curiosity with him and their peers.

Post students enrolled in Liebling’s courses find the subject fascinating. David Mannlein, a senior Math major, took university physics 1 with Liebling. “A three hour lecture has the potential to be insufferable, but we were always laughing and joking. It kept the class engaging,” Mannlein said.

Because of Liebling’s enthusiastic teaching, Mannlein perceived the physical world in a different light. “I remember how I would go to work after class and see the concepts we learned in class all around me,” he said. One question he posed as an example was, why does the fridge door always bounce back and close on you when you swing it open? The physics answer would be Newton’s Third Law and Conservation of Momentum.

Rebecca Phillips, a senior Math major who has a minor in physics, has taken Physics 3, 4, and 19 with Liebling. She noted that Liebling helped her grow as a person and student. “He recommended me for the physics tutor position in the math lab, and that job made me want to minor in physics!” she said.

Liebling conducts a lot of research on different topics throughout the year. The primary goal of his research is to better comprehend the merging of neutron stars and black holes. “High energy collision that requires a lot of physics is very complicated,” he said. Despite the difficulties of researching this topic, Liebling is optimistic that once the first detection of gravitational waves occurs in the U.S., there will be more interest and excitement in the fields he focuses on.

Liebling enjoyed the research he has conducted, although he noted one paper to be his favorite, focusing on what the collision of two black holes immersed in an external magnetic field would look like. Liebling and his co-authors made a fascinating discovery: the collision produces two jets that spiral together like a barber pole as the black holes merge into one. This discovery was titled “Dual Jets from Binary Black Holes,” and released in the 2010 Science Magazine, Volume 329.

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