Monthly Archives: February 2016

Discovering Gravitational Waves – How Hardcore Science Happens

You must have all followed up on the news of the amazing experimental measurement of gravitational waves, nearly a century after Einstein first predicted their existence. Interestingly, at that time, Einstein didn’t think we would ever be able to detect them.

I went through the initial paper that was published in Physical Review Letters announcing the discovery, and it was very interesting to note that the paper itself is devoid of any hoopla and fan-fare that was surrounding this discovery all over the news. In fact, the paper reads as any regular dry to-the-point fact-based scientific paper, with the standard components of literature review, experiment, results, and discussion. This underscores the importance of careful hardcore collaborative science which needs to be done to make possible the success of such a large-scale experiment. The conclusion paragraph of this paper demonstrates this beautifully, with a nonchalant fact-based statement, based upon the results of the experimental measurement, without any embellishment – true hardcore science:

The LIGO detectors have observed gravitational waves from the merger of two stellar-mass black holes. The detected waveform matches the predictions of general relativity for the inspiral and merger of a pair of black holes and the ringdown of the resulting single black hole. These observations demonstrate the existence of binary stellar-mass black hole systems. This is the first direct detection of gravitational waves and the first observation of a binary black hole merger.

See this paper for yourself here:

https://dcc.ligo.org/public/0122/P150914/014/LIGO-P150914%3ADetection_of_GW150914.pdf

Additionally, here is a fascinating article in The New Yorker, which describes the history and build-up of the LIGO detector, and how it came into being:

http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/gravitational-waves-exist-heres-how-scientists-finally-found-them