Skip to main content

Sarah Burke-Spolaor named 2023-2024 Benedum Scholar


Three outstanding faculty members at West Virginia University have been selected as the 2023-24 Benedum Distinguished Scholars in recognition of their exceptional research and scholarly activity.

Dr. Sarah Burke-Spolaor, associate professor in the WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy and member of the Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology, was named as one of the newest honorees.

Sarah Burke Spolaor
The Benedum Distinguished Scholars Awards, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, are awarded annually to faculty engaged in “creative research” in as many as four categories: behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology. 

 (above) is honored as the 2023-2024 Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Physical Sciences and Technologies. She is known nationally and internationally for her groundbreaking work on fast radio bursts and supermassive black hole binaries (SBHBs). SBHBs are the largest, most destructive objects in the universe, but their “darkness” makes it near impossible to find and study them using classic electromagnetic waves (i.e., light from material around black holes). SBHBs are important to find and understand due to their significant role in galaxy evolution and for the unknown, extreme physics that occurs within them. 

Sarah Burke-Spolaor       

Sarah Burke-Spolaor (right) working alongside students and colleagues as part of the NANOGrav Collaboration. Credit: WVU

While the very first detection of gravitational radiation occurred in 2015, a different, longer gravitational wavelength is needed to locate black holes. Burke-Spolaor is a leading member of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), which uses a network of stars called “pulsars” distributed throughout our galaxy to detect small ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by the distant gravitational waves of SBHBs. Burke-Spolaor’s research in the field of low-frequency gravitational wave astrophysics has laid the foundation for the next generation of progress in pulsar timing array science and is paving the road to find the first SBHB in the near future.

Each Benedum Distinguished Scholar will receive a $5,000 professional development honorarium. The scholars will be recognized during a faculty and staff awards reception at Blaney House in April and will be featured in next year’s Benedum Distinguished Scholars Showcase.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy leads the university with number of Benedum Distinguished Scholar Awards with 12 honorees total.  

Congratulations to Dr. Burke-Spolaor!

Contact: Holly Legleiter