Nicolas Yunes



Nicolas Yunes

Primary Research Area

  • Astrophysics / Relativity / Cosmology


Professor Nico Yunes received his bachelor's degree from Washington University in Saint Louis in 2003, and his Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University in 2008. After a Research Associate position at Princeton University and an Einstein Fellowship at MIT and Harvard, he joined the faculty at Montana State University (2011-2019) and then accepted a faculty position at the University of Illinois in 2019. He is also the founding director of the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe.

Professor Yunes is a theoretical physicist that specializes in general relativity and gravitation. He has an international reputation for his work on tests of General Relativity with gravitational waves, universal relations in neutron stars, and black holes in theories beyond Einstein's. He is one of the creators of the parameterized post-Einsteinian framework to test Einstein's theory in a model-independent way with gravitational waves. Professor Yunes is also one of the discoverers of the the I-Love-Q and the Binary Love universal relations of neutron stars, which are used by the LIGO scientific collaboration to infer the equation of state of matter at extreme densities.

His research focuses sharply on the study of extreme gravitational phenomena that may reveal solutions to puzzles in fundamental physics, such as the late-time acceleration of the universe, the nature of dark matter, the baryogenesis problem, and the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Departures from paradigms, or "anomalies" in the data, tell us that there is still much we do not know about the universe, and thus, much to learn. Hints toward an explanation for such anomalies may arise from extreme gravity observations, a regime where the gravitational force is simultaneously unfathomably large and violently changing, a regime that in fact we are only now beginning to probe with gravitational waves. The probing of this regime may provide important hints to the answer of common questions, such as, why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe? What is the true nature of dark matter? What is causing the universe to accelerate in its expansion at the measured rate? Understanding the physics and modeling the observables in this extreme gravity regime is Prof. Yunes' primary focus.

Research Statement

Professor Yunes and his research group study extreme gravity, from the physics of binary pulsars to the gravitational waves emitted in the coalescence of black holes and neutron stars. Observations in the extreme gravity regime may provide hints toward the resolution of outstanding problems in fundamental physics, such as those associated with dark matter, dark energy, the physics of the early universe and quantum gravity. His group uses analytical and semi-analytical techniques rooted in perturbation theory and multiple scale analysis to predict the signatures that potential solutions to these problems would have on observables. His group then uses frequentists and Bayesian data analysis techniques to search for these signatures and constrain their existence in data, thus informing model building in high-energy theory, cosmology and nuclear theory. Below is a breakdown of Prof. Yunes' primary research focus areas:

Other Honors

  • Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect/Chair of the Division of Gravitation of the American Physical Society (2018-2021)
  • Member of the Particle Astrophysics Committee of the Astro2020 Decadal Survey (2019-2020)
  • Fox Faculty Award (2017)
  • IUPAP General Relativity and Gravitation Young Scientist Prize (2015)
  • Juergen Ehlers Thesis Prize (2010)
  • Penn State Alumni Dissertation Award (2008)

Selected Articles in Journals

  • Kent Yagi and Nicolas Yunes, I-Love-Q, Science 341 (2013) 365-368.
  • Nicolas Yunes, Kent Yagi, and Frans Pretorius, Theoretical Physics Implications of the Binary Black-Hole Mergers GW150914 and GW151226, Editors Choice of Phys.Rev. D94 (2016) no.8, 084002.
  •  Nicolas Yunes and Xavier Siemens, Gravitational-Wave Tests of General Relativity with Ground-Based Detectors and Pulsar Timing-Arrays, Living Rev.Rel. 16 (2013) 9.
  • Nicolas Yunes and Frans Pretorius, Fundamental Theoretical Bias in Gravitational Wave Astrophysics and the Parameterized Post-Einsteinian Framework, Phys.Rev. D80 (2009) 122003.
  • Stephon Alexander and Nicolas Yunes, Chern-Simons Modified General Relativity, Phys.Rept. 480 (2009) 1-55.
  • View more publications

Books Authored or Co-Authored (Original Editions)

  • Is Einstein Still Right?, Clifford M. Will and Nicolas Yunes, Oxford University Press, too appear in press October 1st, 2020.

Related news

  • In the Media

The smaller black hole would serve as a precise probe of the spacetime around the bigger black hole, revealing whether it warps and twists exactly as the Kerr metric dictates. An affirmative result would cement the case that black holes are what general relativity predicts, Yunes says. “But you have to wait for LISA.”

  • Outreach

Physicists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have made significant contributions to our understanding of dark matter, through their work on multiple large-scale collaborative experiments. In the past two years, several new faculty hires at Illinois Physics have added their expertise and insight to the search for this elusive particle. And now a newly founded campus center, the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe (ICASU), has taken on dark matter as a main research focus, synergizing efforts and supporting collaboration across scientific disciplines at Illinois and beyond. 

  • Research

What is the true nature of dark matter? What is dark energy? Why is the expansion of the universe accelerating? Why is there way more matter than antimatter in the universe? And is Einstein’s theory of general relativity correct even under the most extreme conditions in the universe?

These big fundamental questions have yet to be answered.

According to Nicolas Yunes, founding director of the new Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe (ICASU) housed in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, scientists are making great strides in our understanding of the fundamental nature of our universe by collaborating across scientific disciplines.

“Our scientific understanding of the universe is at a tipping point, thanks to recent observations and to new computational and mathematical models for understanding these observations,” comments Yunes. “The level of complexity, however, is such that a compartmentalized approach to science is useful no longer, and only through collaboration can we shed new light on the nature of the universe.”