In the ongoing research to understand the origins and the nature of the universe, the detection of gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime – has been a pivotal discovery. On Monday, Oct. 16, Professor of Physics Steven Penn will host a special campus event coinciding with a National Science Foundation (NSF) press conference that will unveil a new scientific breakthrough in gravitational wave astronomy.
The campus event will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center, where Penn will present on the new development and host a question and answer session. The NSF press conference will be streamed live during the program. The HWS event is open to the public.
Earlier this month, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Rainer Weiss of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of California Institute of Technology for the historic discovery of gravitational waves, a scientific breakthrough made possible thanks to a global research team of which Penn has been an instrumental and longstanding member.
Penn made significant contributions to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors which scientists had used to observe gravitational waves for the first time in 2015. The discovery confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, launching a new pathway for understanding the universe. Through his work, Penn discovered how to significantly reduce the thermal noise in the material fused silica, which led to the selection of fused silica for the Advanced LIGO mirror substrates and suspensions.
Currently, Penn chairs the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) Coating Working Group, a subcommittee of the Optics Working Group, which is developing coatings for future detectors. Penn is also a co-coordinator of a multimillion-dollar grant proposal to establish a LSC Center for Coating Research that will develop coatings for Advanced LIGO Plus, or A+, and future detectors.
In September, LSC and the Virgo collaboration, which have been sharing data and coordinating their analyses, reported their first joint discovery of gravitational waves. It was the fourth announced detection of a binary black hole system and the first significant gravitational-wave signal recorded by the Virgo detector, and highlights the scientific potential of a three-detector network of gravitational-wave detectors.
The Oct. 16 NSF press conference will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and will bring together scientists from the LIGO and Virgo collaborations as well as representatives from more than 70 observatories.