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Gravity’s Cosmic Shadows

Arlie Petters

Professor of Mathematics and Physics
Duke University


Shadow patterns are all around us.  We drive through them on the way to work and swim among them in pools.  Similar patterns are also cast throughout the universe by the gravitational fields of stars, galaxies, and black holes.  We unveil some of the cosmic and mathematical secrets of these mysterious and beautiful patterns.

Short Biographical Sketch
Growing up in a small town in Belize with barely any books or electricity, Arlie Petters would look up at the stars and ask all kinds of questions.  With no astronomers around, or anyone with more than a high school diploma, he didn’t know where to take his inquisitiveness. At age 13, he arrived in New York which to him seemed like a “candy store of knowledge”.  At Canarise High School in Brooklyn, surrounded by students obsessed with science and math, and seeing the role math plays in the scientific process, Arlie Petters was inspired to pursue mathematical physics as a career.  He went on to study at Hunter College of the City University of New York (where he has since been inducted into the Hunter College Hall of Fame) and got his Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT.  Prior to arriving at Duke in 1998, he was an assistant professor at Princeton University.

Dr. Petters’ research focuses on gravitational lensing which deals with how light is affected by the warping of space and time.  He was the first to develop the mathematical theory of gravitational lensing and has pioneered new applications such as predicting effects that probe the nature of spacetime around black holes.  He has received several awards for his innovative research, including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, an NSF career grant award, and the first Blackwell-Tapia prize in Mathematical Science.
His portrait is on permanent display at the National Academies Keck Center’s Portrait Collection of Outstanding African Americans in Science, Engineering and Medicine.

In addition to being a researcher, Dr. Petters dedicatedly helps and mentors students and faculty as a way of giving back to the community. In 2005, he also founded the Petters Research Institute in Belize as a way of giving back to the country of his birth.
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