Nergis Mavalvala, PhD is a Pakistani-American astrophysicist known for the role played by her research in the detection of gravitational waves. She is the Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she is also the associate head of the physics department. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010.
Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Mavalvala attended the Convent of Jesus and Mary, a Catholic high school in Karachi. She moved to the United States (US) in 1986 to attend Wellesley College, and later moved to MIT where she conducted her doctoral work under Dr. Rainer Weiss. As a graduate student, Mavalvala developed a prototype laser interferometer for detecting gravitational waves. After graduate school, she was a postdoctoral researcher and then a research scientist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Her focus of study is on gravitational waves using the results from the LIGO.
Mavalvala was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. She attended the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Karachi where she received her O-Level and A-level qualifications. She moved to the United States and enrolled at Wellesley College where she received a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy in 1990. She went on to do her Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1997. Mavalvala is homosexual, Parsi Zoroastrian by faith, and has one daughter with her partner. She currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mavalvala has extended family in Karachi and visited the city in 2010.
During an interview with Pakistani newspaper Dawn, after the detection of gravitational waves, she claimed that she was baffled by public interest in her research in Pakistan. She said “I really thought of what I want people to know in Pakistan as I have garnered some attention there. Anybody should be able to succeed — whether you’re a woman, a religious minority or whether you’re gay. It just doesn’t matter.”
In a statement by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister praised Mavalvala, calling her a source of inspiration for Pakistani scientists and students aspiring to become future scientists. He also stated that “the entire nation is proud of her valuable contribution.”