Francois Foucart is an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at UNH. He is originally from Brussels, Belgium, and obtained undegraduate engineering degrees from the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and the Ecole Centrale Paris (ECP). He moved to the United States for a Ph.D in Physics, graduating from Cornell University in 2011. He was then a postdoctoral fellow for 3 years at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) in Toronto, and a NASA Einstein fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBL) for another 3 years, before moving to UNH in 2017.
Francois Foucart works on computational astrophysics, with a particular focus on studies of black holes and neutron stars, general relativistic hydrodynamics, radiation transport, and nuclear astrophysics. In particular, he studies merging black holes and neutron stars, and models the gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals (gamma-ray bursts, optical/infrared transients) that these mergers power, as well as their role in the production of heavy atoms such as gold and platinum. He also studies the evolution of accretion disks both as remnants of binary mergers and in the neighborhood of supermassive black holes.
Simulations of merging compact objects are especially important in order to interpret observations of gravitational waves by the LIGO and Virgo detectors, as well as the electromagnetic signals detectable by ground-based and space-based observatories which accompany these events (if one of the merging objects is a neutron star). Observations of binary mergers can also help us ellucidate open problems in nuclear physics: the properties of cold, neutron-rich matter at the extremely large densities existing in the core of a neutron star, and the origin of elements produced by rapid neutron capture (r-process) nucleosynthesis (incl. gold, platinum, uranium,...).
In August 2017, the LIGO and Virgo detectors observed for the first time gravitational waves powered by the collision of two neutron stars. These gravitational waves were followed by observations of the post-merger remnant across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. After this first detection, it now seems likely that dozens of neutron star mergers will be observed over the next decade. If we have reliable models to interpret these observations, we can use neutron star mergers to study gravity, nuclear physics, the life and death of massive stars, the mechanisms powering the observed population of short gamma-ray bursts, and the origin of many of the heavy elements observed in the solar system today! An important objective of my research is thus to use numerical simulations to develop and test models of the gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals powered by neutron star mergers.
Simulations of accretion disks around supermassive black holes, on the other hand, will help us understand the impact of the disk's inflows and outflows on the formation and evolution of the surrounding galaxy, and will also play an important role in the interpretation of observations of Sgr A* (the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way) by the Event Horizon Telescope. These observations will, for the first time, provide us with images resolving the event horizon of a black hole!