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LIGO Celebrates Its Gala Inauguration!

LIGO Celebrates Its Gala Inauguration!

- Contributed by Mark Coles

Welcome to LIGO! It's a Celebration! In this edition of the LIGO Newsletter, we showcase the recent LIGO Inauguration, held last November 11-12 at the LIGO Livingston Observatory. We hope this expanded article provides an opportunity for those unable to attend the two-day affair a chance to share in some of the events. The Inauguration featured a scientific symposium; presentations reviewing LIGO science, technology, and project management; keynote speeches by National Science Foundation Director Dr. Rita Colwell, and United States Congressman Richard Baker; as well as a tour of the LIGO Livingston Observatory. Within this article are hyperlinks to video clips, program agenda, speakers' presentations, speech summaries, and other information that will allow you to share in the proceedings.

Our decision to hold an inaugural celebration was motivated by many reasons. Chief among these was that it would provide LIGO with an opportunity to thank the many industrial participants for their significant contributions to the progress LIGO has made. We also wanted to recognize the assistance of various individuals and organizations, such as the National Science Foundation, state and local governments, university administrations, and others for making available the necessary resources so that LIGO could be built. Another important motivation was that the inauguration would provide a forum to present LIGO to a wider audience within the scientific community so that LIGO's goals for operation and future development would be well understood.

The inauguration was staged in two distinct parts: a LIGO Science Symposium held November 11, and then the Inaugural Celebration conducted the following day, November 12. The scientific symposium featured prominent scientists whose contributions to astrophysics, LIGO related science, and gravitational wave experiments created the context, theoretical underpinnings, and support within the scientific community for this bold undertaking. The inauguration festivities on the next day were an opportunity for the LIGO project management to recount the progress made so far, to thank the many contributors to that progress, and to look to the future. It was also an opportunity for members of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides LIGO's funding, to share their views of the program and their enthusiasm for the science.

Locations of the LIGO Sites The LIGO Livingston Observatory Discussion and planning for the LIGO Inauguration began more than a year ago. It was clear from the start that this event would involve the participation of many individuals and institutions. Identifying a single point in space-time where all the participants could simultaneously appear (while always possible on a quantum level) was in reality a major logistical planning problem. Everyone agreed on the desirability of holding the event at a LIGO site so that participants could see an observatory first hand. Choosing between the two sites (shown in map at left)--either Hanford, Washington or Livingston, Louisiana--was difficult as there were compelling reasons for either location. It was finally decided that the Livingston site (at right) was the more favorable. Close to New Orleans, it was more easily accessible to the many airline travelers who would be coming from Washington DC and the east coast.

A second logistical concern related to the number of participants that could be accommodated at Livingston. Conference facilities at both observatories are modest; the largest gatherings held previously at either site amounted to no more than about 80 people. And as plans developed, the number of essential participants soared to well above that number. It became clear that participation would regretfully have to be limited due to space considerations, although we were able to increase our capacity to handle a larger group by setting up temporary facilities.

Very early in the planning process, Dr. Rita Colwell, Director of the National Science Foundation, expressed her desire to represent the foundation and speak at the inauguration. Dr. David Baltimore, President of Caltech, also indicated his willingness to participate. The overlap of availability of their very busy schedules in 1999 led to a day when they would be simultaneously available, November 12, 1999. With our date now defined, LIGO began to contact its many esteemed industrial partners to gauge their interest in attending a celebratory event that would recognize their contributions. The response was more than favorable, and in many cases these partners also sent posters or displays to elaborate on their contributions to LIGO. These were placed on exhibit during the inauguration and can be viewed here ( posters ). Additionally, many universities and government organizations were critical to the construction of LIGO. Their assistance with gaining access, permits, facilitating our relations with industry, and community relations have been essential to our progress. Many of these organizations were also represented at the inauguration.

A prime consideration in planning the inauguration was our desire to include a high-quality symposium on LIGO related science. This program, developed under the direction of LIGO Director Professor Barry Barish, included speakers on theoretical and experimental aspects of the search for gravitational waves, as well as related topics. We were very gratified that every speaker contacted enthusiastically accepted the invitation to participate.

Preparing the Scene. The next task at hand was to develop a general logistical plan for the two days. As mentioned, space considerations and the number of people that could be accommodated had weighed heavily in all our considerations. Early on in the planning, many of those involved began to refer to the event as "the wedding." The analogy seemed appropriate. Many of the considerations to be addressed were similar: how many guests, who should be invited, transportation, lodging, accommodations, preparation of the site, etc. I was reminded of the remake of the movie "Father of the Bride," with Steve Martin. If you've seen it, you'll surely remember "Hank" and "Frank," the wedding planners. I realized we needed our own Hank and Frank to help us with all the logistics, the contracting of outside services, such as catering, equipment and furniture rental, etc. We obtained recommendations for a number of "event planners" (as Hank and Frank's profession is known), and interviewed several. Fortunately, New Orleans is a national leader in hosting conventions and various catered affairs. We were able to choose between the services of several highly experienced organizations, and we selected the Beuerman-Miller Group. They suggested that our staging building (shown at right), which is basically a 12,000 square foot warehouse, could be temporarily transformed into an auditorium, a dining area, a lobby and reception area,as well as a kitchen and preparation area for the catering staff. It turns out that there is a highly developed infrastructure of businesses in the New Orleans area whose mission is to provide precisely the services we required--transforming even the roughest of venues into a comfortable location for a business conference, a wedding, and yes, even a LIGO Inauguration. Fortified by this powerful backing, we began to make detailed plans.

One of the attractions of selecting the Beuerman-Miller Group to assist with the planning was its experience working with media organizations. We all felt that the inauguration would be a great opportunity to introduce LIGO to the general public, and to further outreach programs in development at both LIGO Observatories. To accomplish this would require a partnership of the Beuerman-Miller Group, with its connections to the local media, and the Caltech Media Relations Office, with its connections to the national press. As the big day approached, local television and radio stations conducted interviews, and print journalists ran a number of related articles--before, during and after the event.

Guest list development was a never-ending task, from the very inception of planning until the day of the event. (Anyone who has ever planned a wedding can attest to this--and anyone who ever will is hereby forewarned!) Our desire was to be as inclusive as possible within the limits of our capacity, while giving emphasis to those industrial organizations that had been so crucial to making LIGO a reality. In particular we wanted to express our appreciation to those of our partners who traveled from great distances--Europe, Australia, and Asia--to join us in celebrating.

November tenth was the day all the planning had to coalesce in a final day of preparation. Our staging building was transformed, Cinderella-style, into an auditorium and restaurant to accommodate one and all. Some photos showing this transformation can be seen on our Livingston Photo Web Page. Carpeting, piping and draping, tables, chairs, staging, decorations, audio-visual equipment, and the catering setup all came together in a single, very long day.

Stan Whitcomb at the Scientific Symposium. First up was the scientific symposium on Thursday November 11. With Adobe Acrobat Reader (R), free for download, you can view the symposium program and the speakers' presentations in PDF format. Photos of symposium participants can be found on the Livingston Photo Web Page. Also, Drs. Joe Giaime, Joe Kovalik, Anthony Rizzi, and Sanichiro Yoshida acted as scientific secretaries for the program, briefly summarizing the presentations of each speaker. Their reports are in Adobe PDF format and can be viewed by clicking here ( summaries ).

One of the charms of Louisiana is that it has one of the most distinctive cuisines in the United States. The inauguration provided us the opportunity to share that with visitors. Thursday evening, an informal dinner for symposium participants was held at Mike Anderson's Seafood Restaurant in Baton Rouge. And because most of the representatives of industrial organizations arrived Thursday evening via the New Orleans airport, a reception was held nearby at the Windsor Court Hotel. Representing Caltech at this reception were Professor Barish, President Baltimore, Professor Kip Thorne, and LIGO staffers Gerry Stapfer and Fred Asiri. Photos from both the Mike Anderson dinner and the New Orleans reception can be viewed on the Livingston Photo Web Page.

Friday's inauguration program began at 10 am with welcoming and introductory remarks by LIGO Director Barry C. Barish, Linde Professor of Physics at Caltech. Also speaking were the LIGO Project Manager and Deputy Director, Dr. Gary Sanders, as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Rai Weiss. They recounted project milestones, the team that had to be assembled to make LIGO a reality, and many of the technological hurdles that had to be overcome along the way. Kip Thorne, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech and a leading advocate of LIGO, recalled the scientific goals of the project, its motivations, and the promises that direct detection of gravitational radiation offers us to improve our understanding of dynamical processes in the universe.

Representing the National Science Foundation (NSF) were Dr. Bob Eisenstein, Director of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Dr. Rita Colwell, the NSF Director. Dr. Colwell offered the keynote speech of the morning, voicing a strong endorsement by the NSF of LIGO's goals and the perspective that the Foundation is uniquely able to undertake high cost, high risk, high return projects like LIGO. As such, Dr. Colwell asserted, the NSF provides a unique service to society in stimulating research that could not easily be initiated by any other federal agency.

Video clips of these important speeches can be viewed on our LIGO Inauguration Web Broadcast Page, or by clicking on the video icon.

A tour of the LIGO facility followed the morning program. A video clip of the tour is also available on the Inauguration Web Broadcast Page. Photos of major features of the LIGO Livingston facility and brief narratives explaining each feature are part of the tour guide. A wealth of images of the Livingston Observatory is available on the Livingston Photo Web Page. Information on tour arrangements for Livingston, Louisiana can be found by clicking here, or for Hanford, Washington by clicking here.

Lunch followed the tour, with remarks by Caltech President David Baltimore; Professor Claude Canizares, representing the MIT administration, and Congressman Richard H. Baker, who represents the Louisiana Sixth Congressional District (which includes the LIGO Livingston Observatory) and who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project. Congressman Baker provided a rousing finale to the inaugural celebration, with his quote of the words of Daniel Webster, written on the wall above the Speaker's Chair in the United States House of Representatives. The photo at left below shows that wall, the photo at right is a close-up of the inscription.

Plaque Above the Speaker's Chair. Close-up on Inscription.

Video clips of these memorable speeches from the luncheon program can also be viewed on our LIGO Inauguration Web Broadcast Page.

The luncheon program can be viewed here in Adobe PDF format.

We used the opportunity of planning for the inauguration to offer an open house to the general public on Saturday, November 13. Since the site had been already carefully prepared, it was an easy extension to offer the same tour to anyone else who was interested. The general public was conducted through the Livingston Observatory on tours guided by the LIGO staff. We were extremely pleased that over 750 people came to see us. As a result, many requests have since been received for return visits by community and school organizations. The enthusiasm of the public for the LIGO Project was invigorating. Scenes from several of our tours can viewed at the Livingston Photo Web Page.


We would like to thank all of those who worked so hard to make the events surrounding the inauguration such a success. In particular, we thank the staff of the LIGO Livingston Observatory, the LIGO Director and his supporting staff, The Beuerman-Miller Group for their assistance with event planning and media relations, the Caltech Media Relations Office, the "Livingston News," "New Orleans Times-Picayune," "Associated Press," "Philadelphia Enquirer," "Dallas Morning News," "Pasadena Star Tribune," "New York Times," Nature, Science, Time Magazine, Margaret Robichaud Caterers, the Bill Solly Band, the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, Lewis-Burke Associates, Caltech's Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy, and the National Science Foundation.