Gravitational Wave Physics in the Land Down Underbwillman | August 26, 2010
(I’m posting this on behalf of Ivan Meehan – pronounced Eee-von)
Hi this is Ivan Meehan, a rising junior, and I have had the most wonderful summer opportunity I could imagine!
I participated in a program that sent students to different universities around the world that were all collaborating on detecting gravitational waves. These waves have been described as ripples in the fabric of space-time and if detected, would open a whole new field of astronomy. Astronomers would be able to observe the universe using different gravitational wavelengths just like how they already do so with different electromagnetic wavelengths. Scientists believe this would especially give us more information about cataclysmic events like supernova explosions and neutron and black hole collisions.
I worked with the Optics group at Adelaide University in Adelaide, Australia. The current pair of gravitational wave detectors (they often work in pairs to help confirm the validity of a signal) in the U.S., the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) is expected to detect a signal approximately once every 50 years which is kind of lame. However, scientists are collaborating to build the Advanced LIGO which is expected to detect a signal approximately once a week. The Advanced LIGO requires technological developments like special mirror coatings and suspension techniques to make sure it works properly and the wavefront is not distorted. To be able to know how to correct for wavefront distortion the scientists will use a Hartmann Sensor, which measure wavefront distortion, or changes in the wavefront. At Adelaide University, I worked on characterizing the temperature sensitivity of the Hartmann sensor.
Basically I spent a lot of my summer taking pictures of spots and analyzing the spot displacements with MATLAB programs.
Aside from research, I also made time to meet many new people and explore the country. Adelaide is a small, picturesque city and a great place to spend the summer. I have to point out though, that in Australia it was actually winter time, and since Adelaide is on the southern coast, it was actually rather cold (32-60s degrees Fahrenheit, and usually in the 40s).
Some highlights include:
-going to Cleland National Park and getting to feed kangaroos and hold a koala!
-living in a residential college with graduate students from all over the world, and being the only American there!
-getting to spend a weekend in Sydney and see a symphony-orchestra concert in the Sydney Opera House!
-one of the astronomy professors invited me to the observatory one night and showed me some of the sights in the Southern hemisphere, like the Eta Carina nebula and the “Jewel Box”, an open cluster.