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The SXS (Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes) Project

Catching the Wave Physicist/actor confirms Einstein was right By Leslie Linthicum

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t happened just before 6 a.m., East Coast time, on Sept. 14, 2015. Both of the U.S. Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detectors, one in Hanford, Wash., and the other in Livingston, La., detected two black holes colliding a billion light years away. It took cautious scientists until February to share the news with the world and explain its stunning implications. The observatories, each called LIGO, had finally recorded proof of Albert Einstein’s century-old theory of general relativity. Robert Ward (’00 BS), an Albuquerque native and UNM alumnus, had kept the secret under wraps for five months. A member of the Advanced LIGO team since 2003, he helped design, construct and test some of the precision instrumentation on the wave detectors. Ward calls the LIGO concept “ambitious and audacious,” a huge machine that pushes the limits of technology to monitor the universe for movement billions of light years away, converts that energy into volts and ultimately records it as a little squiggle on a computer screen.

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“A large part of my contribution has been in getting the machine working,” says Ward, 38. “It’s really been my entire career so far.” So imagine Ward’s emotions when he started to see a flurry of emails last September that said LIGO had found what it was looking for. “Exciting, very exciting,” Ward says. “It was amazing. Every scientist has small breakthroughs throughout a career. This is a big one.” It is a big one, one most likely to win the Nobel Prize for physics. Ward was part of an enormous team—more than 1,000 scientists—who worked on LIGO and Nobel prizes are much more often given to individuals than to teams. But he has the satisfaction of knowing that he was part of one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the last century, one that opens the door to probing the farthest reaches of the universe. And the September detection wasn’t a fluke. In June, LIGO announced the detection of another collision in December.

2016, Fall  
2016, Fall  

Volume 36, Number 2. First-Generation Lobos; Feeding Lobos; Civil Rights Memories Archived for History; UNM Looks for a New Brand; Einstein...