Three-year grant supports efforts to measure gravity waves
(Aug. 2, 2004) GENEVA, N.Y. – Research at Hobart and William Smith Colleges on the development of an advanced gravitational wave observatory has received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant totaling $300,000. The grant will fund the ongoing development of advanced instrumentation and detector characterization for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
HWS is one of only three undergraduate liberal arts institutions in the country participating in the LIGO project.
Gravitational waves, an as-yet unmeasured prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, are believed to be a potent source of information about little-understood events, including black hole dynamics, neutron stars coalescence and the birth of the universe. The LIGO observatories, located in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash., measure miniscule distortions in space-time. With arms that extend out 2.5 miles, the instruments can detect a change of 1 percent of the diameter of a proton. The research at HWS is part of an effort to increase that sensitivity by a factor of 100.
Assistant Professor of Physics Steven Penn, principle investigator for the HWS-LIGO research group that received the grant, proudly notes that the project is already yielding excellent results. “Our research effort at HWS has broken important new ground in materials research for Advanced LIGO and opened up design possibilities that few thought achievable a few years ago,” said Penn.
There is also abundant potential for student researchers connected to the project. In keeping with a longstanding tradition of cooperative research between HWS faculty and undergrads, physics majors at the Colleges have contributed greatly to the program thus far. Penn has said that LIGO’s thermal noise component “provides a particularly rich and accessible area for HWS undergraduate research.” Grant money from the NSF will undoubtedly open up several additional avenues for student study and input.
This is the second time the NSF has supported LIGO research at the Colleges. In September 2003, the organization awarded HWS two grants totaling $100,000.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges are coordinate, private, liberal arts institutions, located in Geneva, N.Y., the heart of the Finger Lakes region. The Colleges, which have a combined enrollment of 1,800, offer a remarkably broad array of majors and minors, with a cross-disciplinary flavor intended to better inform both professional and intellectual pursuits. The Colleges are noted also for an ambitious emphasis on international study, and for their programs in community service. Hobart College for men and William Smith College for women share faculty, facilities, and curriculum, but maintain separate dean's offices, athletics programs, student governments, and traditions.