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Science and the Environment

Untangling the Mysteries of the Universe using LIGO

Bernie Goldbach
Flickr, Creative Commons


The Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) is a massive undertaking, which was begun over 40 years ago.  It took an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers to build the devices (there are now two of them) and decades of testing and operation before the sensitivity was improved to the point where its ultimate goal was attainable.  That goal?  To detect the waves that gravity can produce in spacetime.  This prediction, from Einstein’s theories, was supported by most physicists but, until experimental verification is found, nothing is certain.  The first verifiable detection came in 2015 and the work garnered much recognition, including the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. 

The detection of gravitational waves requires not only experimental but also theoretical and computational work.  The signals are weak and the events that produce them (such as black hole collisions) are not well understood.  To allow unequivocal detection, a group of physicists must simulate the signals expected for various events.  Dr. Marco Cavaglia, from Missouri S&T, is one such person.  He stops by STEM Spots to chat about the methodology and results that come via a team of physicists looking for signals from cataclysmic deep space encounters.