California, US (BBN)-Cal State Fullerton faculty and students have played a role in the confirmation of one of Albert Einstein’s predictions regarding gravitational waves.
It was announced in a press conference Thursday that a team of scientists from around the world, including four CSUF faculty members and about 20 CSUF students, detected two colliding black holes that emitted the wave September 2015, reports the Daily Titan.
Einstein proposed his theory of gravitational waves in 1915.
The faculty involved are Joshua Smith, associate professor of physics and director of CSUF Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center; Jocelyn Read, assistant professor of physics; Geoffrey Lovelace, assistant professor of physics; and Alfonso Agnew, professor of mathematics.
The team was able to observe the phenomenon using two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors located in both Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington.
“We are very proud of the fact that scientists and students from Cal State Fullerton have played a key, leading role in this discovery,” said David Bowman, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
By the time the waves reached Earth, they were difficult to detect, Lovelace said.
“What they do is they stretch and squeeze space and time back and forth as they travel, but by the time they get to Earth, they make mirrors in the LIGO detectors wiggle by less than the size of a proton,” he said.
“We punch above our weight in many ways at Fullerton,” Smith said.
Gravitational waves have been under study since the ‘60s, and CSUF joined the research six years ago, Lovelace said.
“The first detection is a bit surreal, but it’s also the fruition of years of anticipation,” Read said.
The Fullerton staff is involved in leadership positions within the collaboration and sees the college as a source for undergraduate students with training in this newly discovered branch of science, Smith said.
“We did this work. We didn’t think it would amount to such a discovery,” said Adrian Avila, physics major.
Avila and the team work in the scatter lab with Smith. Their job is to sort through all the data being collected and separate the gravitational waves from anything that might interfere. This process gives the team more refined data.
“I honestly thought that gravitational waves were going to be detected after I graduated,” said Nousha Afshari, CSUF physics major.
Afshari makes sure CSUF’s supercomputer is running properly so that simulations like those used in the press conference are accurate, in addition to running simulations herself as a research assistant.
Bowman believes that the students involved in this project will be the minds behind understanding how black holes work and possibly understanding the origin of the universe.
“What this really signifies is the birth of an entirely new branch of astronomy,” he said.
“Being able to help LIGO understand what they saw was really rewarding and I’m really proud that CSUF has provided my students this opportunity,” Lovelace said.