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Article: Gravitational waves: talk to a scientist behind the discovery watch

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    What originally drew you to studying physics (/maths/astronomy), and what made you then decide to go into research and in the area you did? What is the best part about what you do?

    Asking as possibly the most indecisive person ever, but physics is what I want to study! Thank you for doing this though, it's really interesting


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    (Original post by dragonkeeper999)
    What did you find where the big differences between undergrad, PhD and being a researcher? Any advice for aspiring researchers?
    The biggest difference between UG and PhD was all about working on something new that hadn't been tackled before - which means there isn't a pre-defined answer at the back of the book! In fact often working out what the question is in the first place is more than half the battle when it comes to PhD research. So defining, and trying to solve, your own research questions was the biggest change from UG degree to PhD.

    As your career progresses beyond PhD, there isn't such a big qualitative change after that: my experience was that it was really just more of the same. The bigger qualitative changes came when I was appointed to a Lectureship position, and then (eventually) to the position of Head of Physics and Astronomy. These roles meant that I was no longer just employed as a researcher, but had much wider duties and responsibilities, e.g. in teaching or in supervising other PhD students and researchers - and (as Head of P&A) in helping shape the overall direction and performance of the School. Those responsibilities present a whole new set of challenges, and inevitably mean that I don't have nearly as much time to devote to doing research as I'd like to. On the other hand I've always found teaching very rewarding too, and it certainly helps you to understand something more deeply yourself when you are asked to teach it to others!
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    (Original post by furryface12)
    What originally drew you to studying physics (/maths/astronomy), and what made you then decide to go into research and in the area you did? What is the best part about what you do?

    Asking as possibly the most indecisive person ever, but physics is what I want to study! Thank you for doing this though, it's really interesting


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    For me it was really astronomy that got me hooked first. I had a really supportive primary teacher who encouraged me to write to the folks at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (and very close to where I was for the LIGO workshop last week) asking them for information about the latest astro research. This was all long before the internet, so it's not as if I could find this information for myself the way you can nowadays. I was amazed at how generous NASA were sending my packages of info about the Voyager missions to Jupiter and Saturn (which were a very big astro news story at the time).

    Once I was at Secondary School I really enjoyed maths and physics, so it was starting to become clear that studying maths, physics and astronomy at University was the way to go. I left high school in 1984 and enrolled on a BSc degree at Glasgow University, and settled in there very quickly. I had the chance to undertake a summer vacation project between my 2nd and 3rd year, in 1986, and I think that's what convinced me that I wanted to try to do a PhD after my first degree. Of all the topics that I studied during my degree, the ones that fascinated me most were cosmology and relativity - basically all about the big scale properties of the universe and how it got to look like it does - so I applied for various PhD scholarships and was awarded one by the Carnegie Trust to work on cosmology, again based at Glasgow.

    That took me through to 1991, by which time I'd decided it would be a good idea to move away from Glasgow and get some experience elsewhere. I applied for a postdoctoral research position at the University of Sussex, again working on cosmology, and spent 5 years there - before a position came up at Glasgow which brought me back here again. I hadn't really expected that I'd wind up back in Glasgow, as it's much more common for research staff to move around a lot, but when I was offered the position I wasn't going to turn it down!

    I would say that the best part about what I do right now is the opportunity to discover phenomena that have never been seen before, to find out entirely new things about the universe. The more I've learned about the cosmos, the more I've realised how much there is still to be learned, and the chance to be at the forefront of that - especially with an exciting new field like gravitational wave astronomy - is really a privilege.
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    How has your life changed since the discovery? How has your perspective on science been affected?
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    (Original post by Martin Hendry)
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    Thank you, that's really interesting- I will keep an eye out for what happens next! And possibly try and come up with some more questions for you in the mean time


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    How did you feel when you released that you had made a massive scientific discovery?
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    (Original post by lewiswallis)
    How has your life changed since the discovery? How has your perspective on science been affected?
    That's a neat question! It hasn't really changed that much, although I've had to survive on a bit less sleep these past 6 months since Sep 14th. Since the discovery announcement I've been iving lots of public lectures and interviews about gravitational waves, but I have been doing quite a lot of those in recent years anyway - it's just nice to be able to include in my talk what we *actually* discovered, rather than just talking about what we were going to do. Of course, as I've said in answers to other questions, there's still lots to do to, however, as we analyse lots more data and prepare for our second science run - when the LIGO detectors will be even more sensitive.

    My perspective on science hasn't really changed that much either, although I must confess I've found myself a few times being totally "blown away" by the magnitude of the event that we observed: the equivalent of three times the mass of the sun converted in gravitational wave energy in a fraction of a second!
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    (Original post by Improvement)
    How did you feel when you released that you had made a massive scientific discovery?
    It was an amazing feeling. Of course I only played a small part in a very large collaboration, so the impact of the discovery wasn't immediate but took a little time to sink in. As our analysis of the initial data unfolded, however, it quickly became clear that we were dealing with a very significant event and a hugely important discovery. One of my roles within the LIGO collaboration is to co-lead the Education and Public Outreach Working Group, so as we began to plan for how we would announce our discovery I realised that I would have an important role in that planning - and that's when the excitement really started to kick in.

    In the final few weeks before the announcement, as we put the finishing touches on our scientific papers, one of my particular tasks was to lead the writing of a "Science Summary" of the main detection paper: an article whose aim was to summarise all of our main conclusions and findings but without the technical language and jargon found in the main scientific paper. I'm very pleased with that summary, and through it I got a very satisfying feeling to think that I had helped communicate the discovery to the wider world. You can find a copy of it on our www.ligo.org website at: http://www.ligo.org/science/Publicat...0914/flyer.pdf
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    What exactly is 'waving'?

    I mean, what are gravity waves waving in? :confused:
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    (Original post by Fullofsurprises)
    What exactly is 'waving'?

    I mean, what are gravity waves waving in? :confused:
    at one time the waves were supposed to propagate in the "Ether".

    it was an Ethereal World back then...
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    (Original post by the bear)
    at one time the waves were supposed to propagate in the "Ether".

    it was an Ethereal World back then...
    I think I read something to the effect that the ether concept might not have been all wrong, something to do with quantum point energy in the vortex?

    I don't know what any of those words mean, but stringing them together like that seemed satisfying. :teehee:
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    (Original post by Fullofsurprises)
    I think I read something to the effect that the ether concept might not have been all wrong, something to do with quantum point energy in the vortex?

    I don't know what any of those words mean, but stringing them together like that seemed satisfying. :teehee:
    oh my ! you sound like Brian Cox
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    (Original post by Martin Hendry)
    The biggest difference between UG and PhD was all about working on something new that hadn't been tackled before - which means there isn't a pre-defined answer at the back of the book! In fact often working out what the question is in the first place is more than half the battle when it comes to PhD research. So defining, and trying to solve, your own research questions was the biggest change from UG degree to PhD.

    As your career progresses beyond PhD, there isn't such a big qualitative change after that: my experience was that it was really just more of the same. The bigger qualitative changes came when I was appointed to a Lectureship position, and then (eventually) to the position of Head of Physics and Astronomy. These roles meant that I was no longer just employed as a researcher, but had much wider duties and responsibilities, e.g. in teaching or in supervising other PhD students and researchers - and (as Head of P&A) in helping shape the overall direction and performance of the School. Those responsibilities present a whole new set of challenges, and inevitably mean that I don't have nearly as much time to devote to doing research as I'd like to. On the other hand I've always found teaching very rewarding too, and it certainly helps you to understand something more deeply yourself when you are asked to teach it to others!
    Thanks so much for the detailed response! That's interesting what you say about your experience of teaching too - I always wondered how our uni lecturers manage to balance teaching alongside research, it's not only the actual lecturing hours but all the preparation, meetings and tutorials they do too!
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    How dangerous are events like the one LIGO detected?

    How near to earth could black holes / neutron stars collide without exterminating life on earth

    edit - came over a bit daily mail for a minute there... congratulations on the detecttion
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    (Original post by the bear)
    oh my ! you sound like Brian Cox
    Brian! Sigh. :drool:

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    (Original post by Fullofsurprises)
    What exactly is 'waving'?

    I mean, what are gravity waves waving in? :confused:
    I think the prof already answered this further up the thread... but using the medium of the early 90's dance music filler track its...

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    I have read contradicting information about black holes. It is often said that black holes are a point of singularity (as in infinitely small), on the other hand I heard some black holes are so massive that if you put one where our sun is, it would fill the orbit of Mercury. So do black holes vary in size or are they all the singularity thing?
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    (Original post by Student403)
    My first question is why did you let Caltech reject me? :cry2:

    Spoiler:
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    seriously though this is great news! I can't wait for the 22nd!
    Why did they reject you? This is not acceptable!
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    (Original post by kalclash)
    Why did they reject you? This is not acceptable!
    Thanks, sidekick :five: But such is life
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    How did you make sure it was gravitational waves, and not something else?
 
 
 
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