Technology Development and Migration

LIGO is a world-leading observatory designed to detect gravitational waves from the most violent events in the Universe. For LIGO to succeed, technology developed by LIGO scientists and engineers enables the instrument to measure displacements less than 1/10,000 the diameter of an atomic nucleus. Innovations in areas as diverse as lasers, optics, metrology, vacuum technology, chemical bonding, and software algorithm development have resulted directly from this pioneering work.


How LIGO Technology is Transferred

The classical mechanism for technology transfer is through the creation of patents. Inventors write patents on their inventions, and companies license the technology to create new product lines, improve existing products, and even occasionally to launch new companies. We cite several examples of patent creation in our case study portfolio including the side pumped zig-zag slab laser, the EUCLID displacement sensor, oxide bonding of silicon carbide, laser beam shaping and high-power electro-optical modulator devices.

Often in the modern world, patents are not issued at all. Instead, news of technological breakthroughs spreads through the scientific literature and by word-of-mouth to improve the state-of-the-art in the commercial arena. An example of this is the use of the LIGO pre-stabilized laser scheme to improve flaw detection in carbon aircraft composite structures.

A third mechanism of technology transfer occurs in work partnerships with vendors. In these collaborations, vendors are often spurred to adopt new technologies or to develop new techniques that allow them to manufacture devices meeting higher specifications than were previously available. One example of this is optical coating vendors developing lower-loss (i.e., less reflective) and more uniform optical coatings.

A fourth mechanism involves technology being adopted by other areas of science. In these cases, the innovations of GW technology spread to other scientific disciplines, often because GW technology pushes the envelope of measurement and noise. For example, the use of continuous sinusoidal-wave data-analysis algorithms to improve the analysis of data from FERMI, or the use of GW technology in the search for holographic geometry.

A final mechanism of technology transfer is best described as the "law of unintended consequences." New technology makes its way into the commercial arena. Suddenly the whole commercial or technological landscape changes and opportunities emerge that no one expected. Two examples of this in LIGO's portfolio are the creation of Stanford Photo-Thermal systems, and the opportunity for the company VIAVI (formerly JDSU) to acquire new materials processing technology through the acquisition of Lightwave Electronics. Neither of these serendipitous events was planned or anticipated.

Our case studies describe technology that has arisen in the gravitational wave community over the past 35 years from the pre-LIGO Lab era, to Initial LIGO and Advanced LIGO, to that emerging from the broader LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) outside of LIGO Lab.