Birmingham's role in gravitational wave detection celebrated in Thinktank exhibit

Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum is hosting a new exhibit, celebrating the role of Birmingham scientists in detecting gravitational waves, the globally significant finding that will help us to understand and explore the mysteries of our universe.

On 14 September 2015 at 10.50:45 UK time an international team of scientists, including those from the University of Birmingham, detected gravitational waves for the first time, using the twin LIGO instruments in the US.

Visitors will be able to interact with a model of the large gravitational wave detectors, using laser light to reveal tiny vibrations, and learn more about black holes and gravitational waves, through material prepared by students from the University of Birmingham.

Postgraduate student Hannah Middleton explained, "Birmingham has played a vital role in one of the biggest scientific discoveries of our lifetime! With this exhibit we want to share our excitement and make our work more accessible to the city, and the region.”

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Gravitational waves are generated by some of the most catastrophic, violent events occurring in the Universe, such as the collision of black holes. The gravitational waves detected on 14 September 2015 originated from two black holes, each around 30 times the mass of our Sun and located more than a billion light years from Earth, merging to form a single, more massive black hole. The discovery confirms one of the major predications of Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity.

Fellow postgraduate student Sam Cooper added, “The response we’ve had has been phenomenal. Gravitational waves hold so much information that will teach us about the origins of our Universe. Studying them could give us insight into the evolution of stars, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, neutron stars and black holes. This is a very exciting time for physicists.”

Birmingham physicists built the hardware components now installed in the LIGO instruments, developed one of the main optical simulation tools, FINESSE, and have provided a significant contribution to the analysis of the LIGO data.

On 26 December 2015, LIGO recorded another gravitational wave signal, the second confirmed detection of gravitational waves from merging black holes.

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Anna Green, a postgraduate student, said, “The second detection further confirms that we are, undoubtedly, at the dawn of a new era of astronomy. Hopefully this exhibit will inform and excite you, and perhaps even inspire the next generation of physicists and astronomers.”

Lisa Stallard, Museum Manager at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, said: “We are delighted to display the gravitational waves exhibit at Thinktank in our Futures gallery, which will feature alongside other key technological developments to help visitors learn more about the exciting discoveries of the University of Birmingham team.

“Having the gravitational waves exhibit at Thinktank serves as a reminder of the volume of significant scientific work undertaken within our region, and reflects our commitment to showcasing cutting edge research to as many people as possible.”

Notes to editors

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