We congratulate Dr Laura Nuttall (MPhys Hons Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology 2009) and Dr Gareth Davies (MPhys Hons Physics 2011) for their contributions to the LIGO experiment, which reported the groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves in a paper published on 11 February.
Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time and are a prediction of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. For over a century these waves have eluded detection by astrophysicists. In September 2015 two detectors which form part of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) observatory detected the waves from the merging of two massive black holes that had spiraled inwards and crashed into each other.
Dr Nuttall first heard about gravitational waves during her undergraduate Physics degree at Lancaster University. “A very enthusiastic lecturer told the class about interferometers and how there was an experiment in Germany (GEO 600) trying to detect the collisions of black holes and neutron stars. This immediately captured my imagination.”
Students studying towards MPhys degrees at Lancaster do an extensive individual research project in their fourth year. “For my final year at Lancaster I approached my future General Relativity professor, and asked him if he would consider creating a new Master’s project and advising on the theory of gravitational waves. I am indebted to Dr Burton for agreeing, and since then I have never looked back!”
Dr Gareth Davies (Cranfield University) also carried out a research project with Dr Burton and went onto participate in the LIGO discovery.
The discovery of gravitational waves is analogous to inventing a new type of telescope, a new way of looking at the universe. Prof. Roger Jones, head of the Physics Department, highlighted this in an interview for CNN “it's going to open up a whole new field of astronomy, a whole new way actually of probing the way that the universe works and looking back into the past of our universe using this new technique.”