IOP hails the detection of gravitational waves by international collaboration

11 February 2016

The IOP congratulated the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) teams as it was announced today that gravitational waves have been detected for the first time by a collaboration involving scientists from several countries including the UK.


The waves detected on 14 September 2015 were generated by the collision of two black holes more than 1.3 billion lightyears from Earth, causing what Caltech’s Professor Kip Thorne described as a “violent storm in the fabric of space and time” in a live press conference that was webcast from Washington, which with Louisiana is home to one of the two LIGO detectors (pictured).

The international collaboration had input from scientists at the University of Birmingham, who developed the techniques to extract the properties of the sources from the gravitational wave signatures, and a team from the University of Cardiff who developed large parts of the complex algorithm that was used to sift through the data in search of the key signal.

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research, and a member of the discovery team, said the detection was made possible by the advanced technologies developed by the UK team. She said: “The mirrors at the end of the LIGO beams weigh 40 kg each, and we need to be able to hold these large weights absolutely still. After a lot of development, we created precision fused-silica suspensions to do this.”

The IOP’s former president, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, said of the discovery: “This is a major step forward, a hugely significant result. It marks the beginning of another way of viewing the universe, one that will show us a lot that we have so far been unable to see. It is also giving us direct evidence for the existence of black holes.”

The IOP’s president, Professor Roy Sambles, said: “The findings reward years of endeavour and showcase the incredible precision we can now achieve that allows this research into the cosmic origins of the universe.

“With researchers from all over the world involved with the Advanced LIGO project, they should be very proud of reaching this milestone, and realise how far they have brought us since Einstein penned his theory of general relativity 100 years ago.

“This discovery is testament to the tenacity of those involved, and highlights the value of what can be achieved when we bring together the brightest and best minds within science and engineering. It’s exhilarating to watch as a new field of cosmology opens before us, and I hope that this discovery paves the way for a fresh generation of physicists inspired by the work that has been done by the Advanced LIGO teams.”

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