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

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About WQ

I received my PhD (2013) in Remote Sensing, Earth and Space Science at the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA, under a Fulbright fellowship. Currently, I'm an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Space Science at Institute of Space Technology (IST), Islamabad, Pakistan, where I have been a founding member of the Geospatial Research & Education Lab (GREL). My general expertise is in Remote Sensing where I have worked with various remote sensing datasets through my career, while for my PhD thesis I specifically worked on Remote Sensing using SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and Oceanography, working extensively on development of techniques to measure ocean surface currents from space-borne SAR intensity images and interferometric data. My research interests are: Remote sensing, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery and interferometric data processing & analysis, Visible/Infrared/High-resolution satellite image processing & analysis, Oceanography, Earth system study and modelling, LIDAR data processing and analysis, Scientific programming. I am a reviewer for IEEE Transactions on Geoscience & Remote Sensing, Forest Ecosystems, GIScience & Remote Sensing, Journal of African Earth Sciences, and Italian Journal of Agronomy. I am an alumnus of Pakistan National Physics Talent Contest (NPTC), an alumnus of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, a Fulbright alumnus, and the Pakistan National Point of Contact for Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). I was an invited speaker at the TEDxIslamabad event held in Nov., 2014. I've served as mentor in the NASA International Space App Challenge Islamabad events in April 2015 and April 2016.

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