Dr Alberto Sesana PhD

Dr. Alberto Sesana

School of Physics and Astronomy
University Research Fellow of the Royal Society

Contact details

Physics West
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Alberto Sesana is a University Research Fellow (URF) of the Royal Society.

Alberto has published more than 80 papers about the physics and astrophysics of massive black holes and gravitational waves in the major jornals of the physics/astrophysics sector, including PRL, PRD, ApJ, MNRAS. Since 2008, he has been invited to more than 50 international conferences, and delivered seminars at more than 50 universities and research institutes around the world 

He is the current chair of the International Pulsar Timing Array, a member of the European Pulsar Timing Array Executive Committee, and chair of the 'astrophysical black hole' working group for the eLISA Consortium.


  • 2014 - URF of the Royal Society
  • 2007 - PhD in Physics and Astrophysics at Universita` degli Studi dell'Insubria (Italy)
  • 2003 - Laurea (MSc) in Physics at at Universita` degli Studi dell'Insubria (Italy), Magna cum Laude


Alberto Sesana got his MSc (Laurea) from Universita` dell'Insubria in 2003 with a thesis about gravitational waves from massive black hole binaries in hierarchical cosmologies. He went on studying the dynamics of these fascinating objects during his PhD, successfully defending his thesis in 2007.

He then moved to Birmingham for a short postdoctoral position in 2007, before spending two years in the US at Pennstate as postdoctoral scholar. From 2009 to 2014 he was first junior then senior scientist at the Max Plank Insitut fuer Gravitationsphysik in Potsdam, one of the world leading institutions for gravitational physics.

In 2014 he was awarded the prestigious URF of the Royal Society, moving to the University of Birmingham, where is currently developing is research on supermassive black holes and gravitational waves.

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students

  • Siyuan Chen (UoB)
  • Felipe Garrido Goicovic (Univeridad Catolica de Chile)
  • Matteo Bonetti (Universita` di Milano Bicocca)

Former PhD students

  • Pablo Rosado (AEI Hannover)
  • Constanze Roedig (AEI Potsdam)
  • Xian Chen (Peking University)


Major research interests

  • Gravitational waves: astrophysics and detection with laser interferometers and pulsar timing arrays.
  • Massive black hole (binaries): formation evolution, dynamics and observational signatures.
  • Stellar dynamics, dense stellar systems.
  • Hyper--velocity stars and the nature and environment of SgrA*
  • Gas dynamics and accretion theory.
  • Structure formation and galaxy evolution.

Along his career Alberto Sesana has tackled several problems related to massive black hole (MBH) and massive black hole binary (MBHB) formation, evolution and dynamics, and he is now recognized as one of the leading scientists in the field of astrophysics of gravitational wave (GW) sources. Early in his career, he focused mostly on MBHB dynamics and GW emission, producing quantitative predictions for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) detection rates (Sesana et al. 2004, ApJ 611 623), and studying the MBHB hardening process in stellar environments, including binary shrinking and hyper–velocity star (HVS) ejection (Sesana et al. 2006, ApJ 686 432). He developed interests in several topics related to GWs and MBHs including: i) the GW detection with ongoing and upcoming pulsar timing arrays (PTAs, Sesana et al. 2008, MNRAS 390 192); ii) astrophysics with III generation ground based interferometers (Sesana et al. 2009, ApJL 698 129); iii) the evolution of MBH binary eccentricity during the hardening process (Sesana 2010, ApJ 719 851); iv) MBHB driven tidal disruption of main sequence stars (Chen et al. 2011, ApJ 729 13); v) GW source localization and data analysis (Babak \& Sesana 2012, PRD 85 044034); vi) cosmology and fundamental physics with space based GW detectors (Berti et al. 2011, PRD 84 1051); vii) MBHB evolution in dense gaseous environments (Roedig et al. 2012, A&A 545 127); viii) electromagnetic counterpart modelling (Sesana et al. 2012, MNRAS 420 860).

His work has been particularly important to establish LISA as an astrophysical observatory, providing us with a broad knowledge of the formation and evolution of the first MBHs, and in the re-design of the eLISA mission – adopted by ESA for the L3 launch slot – in which he played a leading role for his theoretical input. On the pulsar timing side, his papers constitute the foundation of current PTA expectations, and are used as theoretical guidance for defining the specifics of ongoing pulsar timing campaigns and for designing appropriate signal processing and data analysis algorithms. In recent years he also started to make direct contributions to the development of data analysis pipelines, pioneering the field of multimessenger astronomy with PTAs, envisioning, for the first time, the possibility of identifying PTA sources with future X-ray probes as eROSITA or Athena+ (Sesana et al. 2012, MNRAS 420 860).

Other activities

[2015-present:] International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA): Chair

[2015-present:] Member of the European Pulsar Timing Array (EPTA) Executive Committee.

[2013-present:] Member of the IPTA steering committee

[2012-present:] EPTA theory and data analysis working group:   Chair

[2011-present:] Member of the NGO/eLISA science team, proposing eLISA to ESA in the context of the L mission program.

[2011-present:] ’Astrophysical Black Hole’ working group of the eLISA Consortium: Chair

[2008-present:] Member of the European Pulsar Timing Array (EPTA) and of the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA)

Peer review referee for 'The astrophysical Journal' (since 2006), 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society' (since 2006), 'Classical and Quantum Gravity' (since 2009), 'Physics Review D' (since 2009), 'Nature' (since 2012), 'Science' (since 2013).

Reviewer for 'Progetti di Ricerca di Interesse Nazionale (PRIN)' for the italian minister of education(MIUR), 2015.

External reviewer for the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), 2014.

Reviewer for the Croatian Science Foundation proposals, 2012.


A. Sesana, "The promise of multi-band gravitational wave astronomy after GW150914", Phys. Rev. Letter., in press, arXiv 1602.06951 (2016)

L. Lentati, S.R. Taylor, C.M.F. Mingarelli, A. Sesana et al., "European Pulsar Timing Array limits on an isotropic stochastic gravitational-wave background" MNRAS, 453, 2576 (2015)

 P.A. Rosado, A. Sesana & J.R. Gair, "Expected properties of the first gravitational wave signal detected with pulsar timing arrays", MNRAS, 451, 241 (2015)

A. Sesana, "Systematic investigation of the expected gravitational wave signal from supermassive black hole binaries in the pulsar timing band", MNRAS, 433, 1 (2013)

A. Sesana, C. Roedig, M. T. Reynolds & M. Dotti, "Multimessenger astronomy with pulsar timing and X-ray observations of massive black hole binaries", MNRAS, 420,860 (2012)

C. Roedig, M. Dotti, A. Sesana, J. Cuadra & M. Colpi "Limiting eccentricity of subparsec massive black hole binaries surrounded by self-gravitating gas discs", MNRAS, 415, 3033 (2011)

A. Sesana, J. R. Gair, E. Berti & M. Volonteri, "Reconstructing the massive black hole cosmic history through gravitational waves", Phys. Rev. D, 83, 4036 (2011)

A. Sesana, "Self consistent model for the evolution of eccentric massive black hole binaries in stellar environments: implications for gravitational wave observations", ApJ, 719, 851 (2010)

A. Sesana & A. Vecchio, "Measuring the parameters of massive black hole binary systems with Pulsar Timing Array observations of gravitational waves", Phys. Rev. D, 81, 4008 (2010)

A. Sesana, A. Vecchio & C. N. Colacino, "The stochastic gravitational-wave background from massive black hole binary systems: implications for observations with Pulsar Timing Arrays", MNRAS, 390, 192 (2008)

A. Sesana, F. Haardt & P. Madau, "Interaction of massive black hole binaries with their stellar environment: I. Ejection of hypervelocity stars", ApJ, 651, 392 (2006)

A. Sesana, F. Haardt, P. Madau & M. Volonteri, "Low-frequency gravitational radiation from coalescing massive black hole binaries in hierarchical cosmologies", ApJ, 611, 623 (2004)