2022 James Clerk Maxwell Medal and Prize

Dr Katy Clough for pioneering the use of advanced computational methods to investigate fundamental physics, achieving groundbreaking research in inflationary cosmology and dark matter, and demonstrating outstanding leadership in computational physics.

Award  Winner Katy Clough

Dr Katy Clough is in the vanguard of a new crop of theoretical cosmologists who pioneered the use of advanced computational methods to probe and explore the many unsolved strong gravity problems in cosmology where traditional analytical approaches fail. Not only has she made ground breaking contributions to the field of inflationary cosmology and dark matter physics, she is also a leader in the development of the technology which enable the scientific community to investigate these questions. In this new era of gravitational wave astronomy, scientists are now able to observationally probe this very regime of gravity – Clough’s research represents the forefront of this work.

Clough is a world leader in the use of numerical methodology to probe the validity of cosmic inflation; the canonical theory of the origin of the universe. In a series of papers, she showed that inflationary models, which are preferred by observational data, often fail under the generically expected initial conditions, thus challenging the inflationary paradigm’s raison d’etre, and leading her to being quoted in popular media such as Scientific American and Quanta. The techniques she has developed to numerically evolve cosmological spacetimes have rapidly become standard and applied in other contexts. In addition, Clough has made crucial contributions exploring how dark matter interacts with black holes – research that directly impacts present dark matter searches using gravitational wave observations. These works include ‘firsts’ such as the numerical demonstration of scalar hair in black holes and the characterisation of relativistic dynamical friction in black hole spacetimes. She was lead editor of the LISA Fundamental physics white paper section ‘Dark Matter and Primordial Black Holes’.

In addition to her scientific achievements, Clough is the technical lead of the advanced numerical relativity code GRCHOMBO, overseeing both its day-to-day development and strategic long-term planning. This increasingly popular open source code has been used, to date, to produce more than 60 scientific papers by scientists throughout the US, Europe and China. GRCHOMBO is one of the ‘benchmark’ codes used to evaluate the efficiency of the Science and Technology Facilities Council DiRAC-3 high performance computing infrastructure purchase, and Clough is heavily involved in post-purchase commissioning testing of new systems. Her leadership has led to her appointment as a member of the Resource Allocation Committee of DiRAC, responsible for the selection and allocation of valuable computing resources to scientists around the UK.