A West Virginia University astrophysicist has been named a 2020 Highly Cited Researcher by Web of Science, one of the world’s top research awards.Maura McLaughlin, the Eberly Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, is one of 123 scholars recognized in the category of space science for research from 2009 to 2019. During this time, she authored or co-authored 192 articles that have been cited more than 13,000 times.
The highly anticipated annual list identifies researchers who demonstrated significant influence in their field based on how many times their work has been referenced by fellow researchers. The researchers are identified from the publications that rank in the top 1% by citations in the Web of Science™ citation index.
McLaughlin studies neutron stars – compact remnants of massive stars born in supernova explosions. Her time at WVU has been dedicated to using the stars to detect gravitational waves and discovering and studying another astronomical phenomenon – fast radio bursts.
McLaughlin is co-director of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves Physics Frontiers Center. The NANOGrav Center includes scientists from more than 50 U.S. and Canadian institutions. The team helped discover the largest neutron star to date in 2019. Following a recent observation in its latest data set, she expects NANOGrav will soon detect gravitational waves created by supermassive black holes at the cores of merging galaxies by timing an array of pulsars.
Along with Eberly College Associate Dean for Research Duncan Lorimer and colleagues at the Green Bank Observatory, McLaughlin has developed the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, a program involving more than 2,000 high-school students in 18 states in research with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.
McLaughlin credits the long-time research success to the students, postdocs and collaborators at WVU and in large research communities like NANOGrav.
“I have not written a first-author paper since 2013, so I’m not the lead author on most of these highly cited papers. The reason I’m on this list is because I’m lucky to work with really excellent students and postdocs and be in a couple of large collaborations that do impactful science,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not really an award for me. It just shows that the groups I am a part of are doing extremely relevant and high-impact research.”
McLaughlin strives to include students in all of her research projects.
“My job is to train students and give students research opportunities. Students really benefit from being in these collaborations. Working on these projects with people from other institutions, even other countries, is really valuable both scientifically and for professional development,” McLaughlin said. “I really try to make a special effort to involve students at the undergraduate level in these large international collaborations because it really grows their perspectives and makes them more competitive for graduate school. It increases their interest in STEM and helps them see the big picture.”
The complete 2020 Highly Cited Researchers list can be found online.