University of Birmingham announces £6m for UK's first Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy

The University of Birmingham is set to invest £6 million in a new Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy – the first of its kind in the UK.

The announcement comes one year after the first detection of Gravitational Waves, confirming a fundamental prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. Scientists in Birmingham, as part of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration, observed ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves. The discovery has opened an unprecedented new window for understanding the Universe.

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The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Professor Sir David Eastwood, said: “Our investment in the UK’s first Institute dedicated to gravitational wave astronomy is in recognition of the significance of the detection and will lead the way in exploiting the tremendous scientific opportunities that have now opened up.

“The Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy will provide a world-leading focal point for global talent to unlock some of the most well-kept and fascinating mysteries of the Universe.”

The University of Birmingham’s Gravitational Wave Group was involved in the Advanced LIGO project since its inception. Its scientists developed and built hardware for its advanced instruments and contributed significantly to the analysis of the instrument’s data, providing new insights into the astrophysics of black holes, and performing novel tests of Einstein's theory.

The Institute will pioneer new ideas in precision measurement at the quantum level, and engage with industries and companies to develop partnerships and transfer technology. In addition, the training of students and young researchers will be at the core of the Institute’s mission to educate new generations in STEM subjects through participation in cutting-edge research.

Professor Andy Schofield, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “The University of Birmingham has a team of scientists with an exceptional breadth of expertise covering the full interdisciplinary range in the emerging field of gravitational-wave science. The Group has a wide-ranging involvement in major gravitational-wave projects in addition to LIGO, including Einstein Telescope, the space-based missions LISA-Pathfinder and eLISA, and Pulsar Timing Arrays.

“The routine observation of gravitational radiation will provide ground-breaking insights into black holes, neutron stars, the evolution of stars, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, and in the long-term, the very first instants of the life of the Universe. This is a hugely exciting time to be at the University of Birmingham.”

Gravitational waves carry unique information about our Universe; the first detection revealed a population of heavy binary black holes, previously unknown. They interact very weakly with particles, however, and to detect them requires incredibly sensitive instruments. 

The Institute will further build and exploit expertise in optics, metrology, interferometry, quantum macroscopic systems, big-data and theoretical physics to tackle challenges and push the boundaries of knowledge at the most fundamental level.

Professor Andreas Freise, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Birmingham, said: “The Institute will allow us to create the best environment for students and young researchers to play an active role in this exciting and diverse field of research, working with international leaders around the world. Together we will shape the emerging area of gravitational wave astronomy.”

Professor Alberto Vecchio, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Birmingham, said: “I am delighted that after many years of work culminating in our contributions to the breakthrough detection of gravitational waves, the University's investment is providing Birmingham with a springboard to be at the forefront of gravitational-wave astronomy at a time in which the field is about to boom. I can't wait for the many exciting discoveries and surprises in the years to come.”

Over the next few years, the members of the Institute will continue the survey of the sky with Advanced LIGO, in the search for new cataclysmic cosmic events to map the populations of black holes and other exotic objects. New light will be shed on the underlying astrophysical processes and Einstein’s ideas will continue to be tested in new regimes. Birmingham’s scientists will continue to push the boundaries of technology for the development of the next generation gravitational-wave observatories and to broaden the spectrum of the observable gravitational-wave sky.

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For more information please contact Deborah Walker, Head of Communications on +44 (0) 121 4145134. Out of hours please call +44 (0) 7789 921165 or email pressoffice@contacts.bham.ac.uk