Theoretical physicist elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Imperial’s Professor Claudia de Rham has been elected as an International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Professor de Rham , from the Department of Physics at Imperial, is a theoretical physicist who develops and tests cosmological theories dealing with a wide variety of concepts, from the early universe and dark energy to the behaviour of gravity.

On her election, she said: "It is very humbling to join this truly remarkable and outstanding Academy but also very exciting to interact with such an inspiring group of people in honouring Arts and Sciences."

Professor de Rham is particularly known for her work on a new theory of massive gravity. This theory concerns gravitons, which are hypothetical particles responsible for transmitting gravitational forces.

Understanding the nature of gravitons could shed light on some open mysteries about the universe. For example, astronomers have observed that our universe is expanding at an accelerated speed, but this phenomenon cannot be explained by Einstein’s general relativity theory, which assumes that gravitons are massless.

The theory of massive gravity provides one possible solution to this question. It modifies general relativity by granting mass to gravitons. All earlier attempts to construct the theory of massive gravity, however, had failed as they lead to mathematical results contradictory to the observed physical world.

In 2011, Professor de Rham and her collaborators, Imperial Professor Andrew Tolley and NYU Professor Gregory Gabadadze, made a breakthrough by constructing the first mathematically and physically consistent theory of massive gravity, completely avoiding the problems of previous versions.

This work has profound implications for the area of research now dubbed ’beyond Einstein gravity’, which includes exploring new types of particles in the universe and connecting the theories of gravity with current and next-generation astrophysics experiments.

She has previously won the Adams Prize , Finalist and Laureate awards from the Blavatnik Foundation, the Senior Beate Naroska Guest Professorship for her outstanding research in Theoretical Physics, as well as for her active involvement in creating equal opportunities for women in physics. She is also the recipient of a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award and a Simons Investigator among other grants and awards.