Dr. Andrea Derdzinski

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Center for Theoretical Astrophysics and Cosmology
Institute for Computational Science, University of Zurich


I'm a theoretical astrophysicist primarily working on black holes and accretion disks. I use analyical calculations, numerical tools, and hydrodynamical simulation codes such as DISCO and FLASH. I received my PhD from Columbia University with advisor Zoltan Haiman working on the interplay of accretion disks and coalescing supermassive black hole binaries. Ongoing research interests include:

  • Formation and evolution of gravitational wave (GW) sources, the role of their astrophysical environments, and associated electromagnetic signatures
  • Accretion phenomena, torques and migration associated with binary + gas-disk interaction: a problem that occurs on many scales, from interacting supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies to planet migration around protostars
  • Extreme or intermediate mass ratio inspirals (E/IMRIs): their formation mechanisms and environmental effects (namely gas) on their gravitational waveforms
  • Numerical studies (and simulation comparisons) on torque direction and variability
  • Fragmentation in massive, gravitationally unstable accretion discs as an avenue for EMRI formation and other interesting phenomena
  • Theoretical work in preparation for LISA, the future space-based GW detector, as part of the Astrophysics Working Group in the LISA Science Group


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Research highlights

Production of gas-embedded BH inspirals

Star formation can occur in massive accretion disks in Active Galactic Nuclei, producing unique stellar populations which subsequently evolve and migrate, producing in-situ EMRIs among other observational signatures.

Time-variable torques on BH inspirals

High frequency torque fluctuations on a disk-embedded BH can produce multiharmonic and multiband GW emission. This is particularly relevant for EMRIs in turbulent accretion disks. Check out our recent paper led by Zwick et al. (2022).

Characteristic signatures of accretion disks in GWs

Gas-embedded intermediate mass ratio inspirals experience torques from their environment that are sensitive to the local density and temperature. With a suite of hydrodynamical simulations, we find that these torques can impart unique imprints in the gravitational waveforms, which presents an opportunity to probe AGN discs via GWs.

Post-shock dust formation in novae

Increasing evidence supports that shocks are ubiquitous in nova outflows and are responsible for powering nova emission across the electromagnetic spectrum. In many cases these shocks can be radiative and responsible for dust formation sites within the ejecta. This explains the puzzle of early dust formation in these violent eruptions and presents testable observational implications - check out our Astro2020 white paper.

Snapshot of surface density in a simulation by Duffe\
ll et al. (2020)

Supermassive black hole binary evolution in circumbinary disks

The interaction of a binary with a surrounding gas disk leads to variable accretion and torques, which affect the evolution of the binary. A suite of simulations presented in a paper led by Duffell et al. (2020) demonstrate how this torque is sensitive to the binary and disc parameters. These systems are prime candidates for electromagnetic signatures associated with GW emission, which you can read about in our Astro2020 white paper.


In addition to TAing and instructing lab courses as a graduate student, I participated in the Institute for Science and Engineering Educators Professional Development Program in 2015 and in 2016 as a Design Team Leader.
In 2016, I received the Lead Teaching Fellowship at Columbia University, during which I attended several pedagogical workshops and organized a few of my own. My teaching practices are centered upon using inquiry-based methods that encourage learning science by doing science. My lesson plans are accessible to various learning methods and allow students to engage with material in individual (and more effective) ways.

Science Communication

I have experience speaking to a broad range of audiences (from professional to general public) on topics ranging from gravitational waves to cool solar system missions (e.g. with Astronomy on Tap NYC and the Columbia Astronomy Outreach program). In 2018 I was a finalist in the international 3-Minute Thesis Competition. I participate in events that encourage youth involvement in science, such as "Meet the Scientist" at the Intrepid Museum's annual Kid's Week.

Please email me for an updated version of my CV.

about me

I wouldn't be where I am today without a healthy balance of life outside of work.