Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Einstein's Gravity Waves Confirmed ; WVU Professor a Member of Space-Research Team

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Einstein's Gravity Waves Confirmed ; WVU Professor a Member of Space-Research Team

Article excerpt

A West Virginia University researcher and professor is part of the team that has detected gravitational waves in the universe, which Albert Einstein predicted a century ago in his theory of relativity. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space- time. Scientists announced in Washington, D.C., on Thursday that the elusive waves had been detected.

"From a scientific point of view, we can look at the universe in a whole new way, said Sean McWilliams, an astrophysicist and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at WVU's Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

McWilliams is WVU's institutional principal investigator for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory Scientific Collaboration and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration Council.

McWilliams and other scientists compared the discovery to Galileo's use of the telescope.

"It's mind-blowing what we've learned from the telescope," he said.

In the same way that telescopes helped scientists see the universe, gravitational waves are going to help them hear it, McWilliams said.

"We are hearing the universe for the very first time, he said.

McWilliams, who is originally from Pennsylvania and came to WVU three years ago, has been a LIGO member since 2005 when he was a graduate student, he said. His role in the search has been to model what scientists think the waves would look like. He also was part of a team of scientists who took shifts analyzing the data from instruments to see if waves could be detected, and he had a hand in writing the report from the discovery, he said.

The waves were detected by a set of two LIGO instruments, located in Louisiana and Washington state. The instruments have two arms that are more than two miles long.

The gravitational wave was the result of the collision of two black holes that merged to make an even bigger black hole. The black holes, detected Sept. 14, were 1.3 billion light years away from Earth.

"So what Einstein told us is that all the universe is permeated by space-time in the background of what's happening, McWilliams said. "Gravitational waves are made when something cataclysmic happens, like two black holes collide. …

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