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Lasers & Sources

Gravitational wave detection a step closer with Advanced LIGO

The LIGO project's mission is to directly observe gravitational waves of cosmic origin.

4 January 2016, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201512.04

Update (11 February 2016): Gravitational waves detected!

LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, operates detector facilities near Livingston, Louisiana and at Hanford, Washington. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by Caltech and MIT, LIGO seeks to open the field of gravitational-wave astronomy through the direct detection of gravitational waves from astrophysical sources. Such sources could include the collisions of neutron stars or black holes, the gravitational collapse of heavy stars, the spinning of neutron star pulsars, and events perhaps not yet imagined.

The international LIGO Scientific Collaboration directs LIGO's progress and manages LIGO's leading role in the global gravitational wave detector network. The NSF funded a recent comprehensive upgrade of the first-generation LIGO detectors in a program named Advanced LIGO, with additional support coming from funding agencies in Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In September 2015, LIGO began its first data run with these newly-upgraded instruments. In January 2016, LIGO will pause for a commissioning interval that will further boost detector sensitivity. Data runs and commissioning periods will alternate through 2019 as LIGO seeks to maximize the performance of the advanced detectors.

Fred Raab earned his BS in physics from Manhattan College in 1973 and his PhD in physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1980, working in the field of molecular spectroscopy. As a research scientist at the University of Washington from 1980 to 1988, he worked on high-precision experimental tests of physical laws and symmetries. In 1988, he became assistant professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology and was a co-author of the LIGO construction proposal. In 1995, he was appointed to head the LIGO Hanford Observatory.

Michael Landry completed his PhD in strange hadronic physics at the University of Manitoba (Canada) in 2000, with experiments at TRIUMF and Brookhaven Laboratories. He then began as a postdoc at the LIGO Hanford Observatory (LHO), and has remained with the experiment since that time. He is currently Detection Lead Scientist with LHO/Caltech.

SPIE visited Hanford for this video in late September 2015. We didn't know it then, but the first gravitational wave had been detected a week earlier.