Dr. Anna Heffernan, appointed member of the Constituent Council of the LISA Consortium

24 November, 2023

Photo: Dr. Anna Heffernan

Dr. Heffernan of the GRAVITY research group at the University of the Balearic Islands will participate in the structuring of the consortium that both proposed and leads the scientific research required for LISA, the first space observatory of gravitational waves.

Dr. Anna Heffernan, postdoctoral researcher of the research group in Gravitational Physics: theory and practice (GRAVITY) of the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), has been appointed as a member of the Constituent Council of the LISA Consortium, the scientific initiative of over 1700 researchers that leads the required research for the first space observatory of gravitational waves.

Her appointment is a recognition of the important role that the University of the Balearic Islands plays in international research on gravitational waves. In fact, the University of the Balearic Islands occupies a leading position in international research on gravitational waves. It is the third institution that contributes the most researchers to the LISA space mission consortium, while in LIGO, the current ground-based detector, analysis of incoming gravitational waves uses Phenom waveforms that were produced by UIB in collaboration with resesarchers from Cardiff University.


The Consortium Constituent Council (CCC) is an essential part of LISA and is responsible for determining the statutes, regulations and organization of the new consortium for the LISA space mission. The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch LISA as the future space observatory of gravitational waves, in collaboration with NASA and the international scientific community.

With a total of 62 members, including Dr. Heffernan, the LISA CCC is responsible for restructuring the consortium to enable close collaboration with the European Space Agency and NASA in the future. This task is of great importance, especially as LISA is taking shape with an eye towards its launch, scheduled for 2034.

Dr. Heffernan, who also serves as co-chair of the LISA Consortium’s Waveform Work Package Team and as a member of the LISA Internal Networks Committee for Science, has been selected to represent the interests of waveform modellers, a central line of research needed for gravitational wave detectors. In addition, she will represent the interests of women in science, researchers in Spain and researchers who are in the early stages of their careers. Her expertise in the LISA Network Committee will be used to transmit developments and allow feedback from the overall consortium.


Dr. Heffernan has extensive international research experience. She stands out as a researcher for her focus on the use of perturbation methods in modelling gravitational wave sources. With extensive experience as a member of both the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the LISA Consortium, Dr. Heffernan has contributed significantly to the field of gravitational waves.

After completing her BSc. in Theoretical Physics at University College Dublin (Ireland), she continued with a Master’s degree in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces at Imperial College London (UK). She obtained a postgraduate scholarship from the Irish Research Council for Science Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) to complete her PhD, winning the PhD Thesis Prize from the Institute of Physics’ Gravitation Group in 2013.

Dr. Heffernan previously was a research fellow at the European Space Agency (ESA) and was awarded the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship to expand her research on self-force at the University of Florida (United States) and University College Dublin (Ireland). She has also done postdoctoral research at the University of Guelph (Canada) and at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics (Canada).

Dr. Heffernan joined UIB in September of 2021, via the research group in Gravitational Physics: theory and practice (GRAVITY), led by Prof. Alicia Sintes.

Why an observatory in space?

The direct detections of gravitational waves from the merger of black holes made by the observatories of the scientific collaboration LIGO, and in which the UIB has participated through the GRAVITY group, have so far been limited to objects that have masses of about 100 times that of the Sun and that produce high frequency signals. Sources with much larger masses, such as the mergers of massive black holes at the centers of galaxies, produce signals at much lower frequencies, which are currently undetectable on Earth.

The objective of the LISA mission is to put into orbit, foreseeably in 2034, a gravitational wave space observatory formed by three space probes with an arm length of 2.5 million kilometers. These probes will scan the sky and look for signs of gravitational waves from distortions of spacetime as they follow the Earth during its orbit around the Sun. This giant detector will capture gravitational waves, among many sources, of black holes in orbit that are hundreds of millions of times more massive than the Sun. LISA will allow us to discover parts of the Universe that remain invisible by other means, such as supermassive black holes, the Big Bang and other as-yet-unknown objects. Thus, the knowledge we have about the beginning, evolution and structure of the Universe will be improved.