Birmingham physicists joined forces with scientists at the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Laboratory (LIGO) detectors in Louisiana and Washington, US, to play a key role in the discovery of cosmic gravitational waves in, generating global media attention.

Our scientists designed and built components for the most sensitive instruments in the world, called Advanced LIGO, which picked up evidence of gravitational waves. These are tiny distortions of space-time caused by some of the most violent cosmic events, such as colliding black holes. The observation of these ‘ripples of space-time’ requires exquisitely sophisticated new technology.

Incredible science

The discovery, in February, confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Professor Alberto Vecchio, from the School of Physics and Astronomy, whose team developed the techniques to extract the properties of the sources from the gravitational wave signatures, and has provided a significant contribution to the analysis of the LIGO data, said: ‘This observation is truly incredible science and marks three milestones for physics: the direct detection of gravitational waves, the first observation of a binary black hole, and the most convincing evidence to-date that Nature's black holes are the objects predicted by Einstein's theory.’

Masterpiece of physics

Professor Andreas Freise, also from Physics and Astronomy, said: ‘It is amazing to think that we have been able to measure the echoes from the birth of a new black hole that happened more than a billion years ago. The Advanced LIGO detectors are a masterpiece of experimental physics. They are the most sensitive gravitational wave detectors ever built, and they have now for the first time done what they were built to do: there was a ‘disturbance in the gravitational force’, and the LIGO detectors have felt it!'