LIVINGSTON, LA (WAFB) - An LSU adjunct professor is one of three scientists who is receiving the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for research which was conducted at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory or LIGO facility in Livingston, Louisiana.
Rainer Weiss, an LSU adjunct professor and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will receive the prize with Barry Barish and Kip Thorne who are both emeriti at the California Institute of Technology. All three professors have been studying physics for over 40 years.
On September 14, 2015, the LIGO facilities in Livingston and Hanford, WA detected gravitational waves from two black holes that merged together 1.3 billion years ago. This discovery, which proved aspects Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity would win Weiss, Barris, and Thorne the Nobel Prize.
The LIGO Livingston facility is located on 180 acres of LSU property in Livingston Parish. It is staffed by LSU faculty, students, and researchers. LSU is leasing the land to the National Science Foundation, which funds the LIGO project, until 2044. The LIGO project is managed by Caltech and MIT.
LIGO Livingston began collecting data in 2005. The facility received a major upgrade in 2015 which increased the sensitivity of its instrumentation ten-fold. The annual budget for LIGO Livingston is $6-9 million per year.
Both the LIGO facilities in Livingston and Washington state are equipped with L-shaped arms that are two and a half miles in length and four feet in diameter. Lasers are sent in two beams down the arms in a vacuum. The light from the laser bounces back and forth between mirrors on each end of the L.
Scientists measure the length of both arms using the light. If there's a disturbance in space-time, such as a gravitational wave, the time the light takes to travel two and a half miles will be slightly different in each arm making one arm look longer than the other. LIGO scientists measure the interference in the two beams of light when they come back to meet, which reveals information on the space-time disturbance.
LSU Graduate Student Terra Hardwick explained to 9News about the detection process:
LIGO Livingston's operations manager Richard Oram told 9News the facility is currently being upgraded and will be finished in Spring 2018.
"We hope to see a near 20% improvement in sensitivity over what we've done in observatory 02. That means we've got some exciting detections to come," said Oram.
He was also proud of the facility's role in helping his colleagues win a Nobel Prize:
The LIGO Livingston facility is part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration or LSC. LSU's staff at LIGO Livingston are major contributors to LSC. More than 1,000 scientists from universities across the U.S. and 14 other countries conduct LIGO research. Over 90 LSC universities and research institutions develop detector technology and analyze data. Around 250 students around the world contribute to the collaboration.