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LIGO On Display at APS Centennial Meeting
Night of the Stars...

LIGO On Display at APS Centennial Meeting

- Contributed by Phil Lindquist

The 1999 Centennial Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) was held March 20-26, 1999 in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center. This meeting celebrated the first century of the APS, and was the largest gathering of physicists ever (at least that is what their PR material proclaims!).

During the planning phase, the APS made effort to include students, the media, public policy makers, and the public--along with the members of the APS and their physicist colleagues. As part of this endeavor, a large exhibit hall was open for three of the six days which contained exhibits from industry and federal agencies, as well as from units of the APS.

Scenes from a Centennial

Figure 1. Figure 2.

Figure 1 at left above: The APS Topical Group on Gravitation included a working model of an interferometer, a video and audio cartoon of coalescing binary neutron stars, and three posters describing the sources of Gravitational Radiation, the history and background of the field, and an overview of various detectors. Next in Figure 2: Fred Raab provided a "hands-on" working interferometer to demonstrate the principles of LIGO. Here Linda Ware from the Jefferson National Accelerator Facility "locks" the interferometer onto a dark fringe.

I was asked to coordinate a Unit Exhibit for the Topical Group on Gravitation. I credit much help for the success of the exhibit: Patrick Brady and Rai Weiss provided the content for three posters as follows:

"Gravitational Waves - Ripples in Spacetime" a brief discussion of the history since Einstein published his famous paper on Special Relativity in 1905 through the observations of a pulsar in a tight binary system by Hulse and Taylor in 1993. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery. The poster also discussed the nature of Gravitational Waves and provided a comparison with Electromagnetic Radiation.

"Astrophysical Sources of Gravitational Radiation" including compact binaries, Burst Sources, Continuous Wave Sources and Stochastic Background.

"Gravitational-Wave Detectors" including Bars, Prototype Interferometers, Long Baseline Interferometers such as LIGO, and Space Based Interferometers such as LISA.

Patrick Brady assembled the posters with editorial assistance and contributions from Warren Anderson, Jolien Creighton, Teviet Creighton, Samya Habuni, Scott Hughes, Alan Wiseman as well as others who provided the graphics, data, and pictures used (LIGO, LISA, Caltech Archives, Joseph Taylor, Louisiana State University). Most who have seen these posters have agreed that they are magnificent, spectacular, impressive, well done--insert any superlative of your choice.

Viewing the Posters

These three posters can be viewed in Adobe Acrobat Reader(R) by clicking on the respective links below:

Gravitational Waves - Ripples in Spacetime (PDF - 623KB)

Astrophysical Sources of Gravitational Radiation (PDF - 430KB)

Gravitational-Wave Detectors (PDF - 664KB)

(Adobe Acrobat Reader(R) can be downloaded for free by clicking here.)

Patrick Brady and Jolien Creighton also provided a video with cartoons showing the inspiralling binary neutron stars, and an audio track of the gravitational wave signal.

Table-Top Interferometer

Fred Raab provided a working table-top model of a Michelson interferometer, using an inexpensive laser pointer as a source (yes, one set of triple-A batteries provided power through all three days) that proved invaluable for attracting people to the exhibit and providing a nifty, hands-on mechanism for explaining LIGO and other interferometer based detectors.

We had an enormous number of visitors (a continuous stream) to the exhibit over the three days. These included a number of members of the Topical Group on Gravitation including Kip Thorne, Bob Wald, Rai Weiss, and Barry Barish. The most notable (recognized) visitor was the Nobel Prize winner himself, Russell Hulse. We also had the opportunity to talk to a number of high school students and teachers. One additional factoid: over 8,700 oral and poster presentations were given during the six-day meeting. By the end of my three day stint, the voice was gone.


Night of the Stars...

- Contributed by Gary Sanders

Now, LIGO is a science project. That much is perfectly clear. So it was with a bit of a surprise that I learned that LIGO had been selected for an engineering award. The award carries the inscription "Distinguished Engineering and Science Project Achievement of the Year Award 1999" and is bestowed by the Engineers' Council of Woodland Hills, California.

After collecting my thoughts I reminded myself that engineering is always done for a reason and science is as good a reason as any other. And when it comes down to it, LIGO truly is an impressive engineering achievement. Perhaps it even is "distinguished."

Our industrial partner, Parsons Infrastructure and Technology of Pasadena, felt that LIGO stood out as an engineering effort. They nominated LIGO for this award and were seated in the audience at the presentation to join in the celebration. It is the Parsons team that took our requirements and designed those great buildings and concrete slabs for the arms that we have been writing about all these months. They managed the construction contractors who poured the concrete and assembled the framing and laid the plumbing and wiring in, and all of the other activities that provided the conventional construction "house" for our laboratory and interferometers. And when it was all completed they thought the whole project, with its vacuum system and lasers and mirrors and servos, stood out as an exemplar.

And so did the Engineers' Council. On February 27 my wife, Marge, and I arrived at the Sportsman's Lodge in the San Fernando Valley. There we were ushered into a posh assembly hall to accept the award on behalf of our worthy team. What a scene! It looked like a kind of Academy Awards for the Engineering Set, glamorous in its own right. Big Hall. Spiffy outfits. Tables seating about 1000. And a stage set with tables for the most select recipients. Including LIGO.

This ceremony fell during National Engineers Week. I learned during the presentations that the ceremony was the single largest event in the country in celebration of National Engineers Week. It felt like it.

Awards were presented for projects such as the "smart" information gathering system in the Los Angeles Freeways, several projects related to things like the Space Shuttle main engines, stealth aircraft, several satellites and lots of other heady company. And LIGO.

Today, the day I wrote this article, a group of us almost finished installing a seismic isolation system in a vacuum chamber here at the Hanford Observatory. As I left the work area, I stood up on a catwalk looking out over another big hall. There were no tables and wine glasses, no plaques or microphones. But there was an impressive set of vacuum chambers and pumps and all of the makings of an emerging interferometer. The room was quiet, the temperature stable, and the floor was flat, very flat. One engineer was suspended high up installing a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) antenna on the roof. A group of three scientists was rolling a large suspended optic into a chamber. Another scientist was installing systems to support the computer monitoring of the interferometer. And two engineers were organizing sealed, foil wrapped and ultraclean parts for tomorrow's continuation of seismic system installation. Everything an engineer would plan for an interferometer like LIGO. And none of it was in place a few years ago. A lot of very fine engineering and the realization of engineering has been accomplished in a few years.

Parsons was right. I must thank them for their kindness in nominating LIGO. And I thank the whole LIGO team and our many industrial partners for bringing us so far. We have more to do. Gravitational waves are out there. But we have a very fine start.