02/27/2007 08:00:00

Caltech's LIGO Science Education Center Receives 2007 AIA Design Award

PASADENA, Calif.-In a region where devastation and disaster reigned, rebuilding becomes of paramount importance. In these circumstances, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New Orleans Design Awards take on special significance.

The LIGO Science Education Center in Livingston, Louisiana, is the recipient of a 2007 AIA New Orleans Design Award. The awards theme, "Good Design Is Good Business," reflects the ongoing work of AIA New Orleans chapter to highlight the best in design and revitalization post-Katrina and Rita and to set a new standard for the revival of a city after a major disaster, ensuring that the integrity of New Orleans' rare architectural heritage will be preserved. Twelve design award winners were chosen from over 70 project submissions, more entries than the chapter has received in any previous year.

The Award of Honor bestowed upon the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Science Education Center (in the category of "Divine Detail"), cited "form and function coming together in an exciting and unexpected way" in the design of this building and the dynamic exterior "Wave Wall." In an extraordinary display, the Wave Wall manifests the principles of the Science Education Center, uniquely combining art, technology, and science.

An enormous moving sculpture, the Wave Wall is activated by the wind or by energetic LIGO guests (via ropes and pulleys). In this signature exhibit, themes of the Science Center--wave motion and propagation, gravity, resonance, and light--are expressed in action. Visitors walk under the magnetically coupled wave machine, reaching more than 30-feet high along the 85-foot-long building façade. The massive aluminum masts swinging just overhead may dance in graceful undulating patterns, or may break into unpredictable chaos with a gust of wind.

Nationally renowned architects Eskew + Dumez + Ripple of New Orleans designed the LIGO Science Education Center, which officially opened in November 2006. The Wave Wall team was led by artists Shawn Lani, Charles Sowers, and Peter Richards along with Thomas Humphrey and Susan Schwartzenberg of the San Francisco Exploratorium, and included scientists and engineers from the LIGO Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology, High Precision Devices of Boulder, Colorado, and Superior Steel of Baton Rouge. The work was commissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Strengthening the State of Louisiana is a common goal of the AIA New Orleans and the LIGO Science Education Center. In particular, the mission of the Science Education Center is to communicate LIGO-related science concepts to the public; to improve in-service and pre-service science and mathematics teacher skills and abilities; and to provide a novel resource to enhance the science and mathematics abilities of students in Louisiana and surrounding regions.

Founding partners in the Science Education Center are Caltech, Southern University at Baton Rouge, Louisiana Systemic Initiative/Louisiana Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, and the Exploratorium of San Francisco.

Fully operational since 2001, LIGO is a scientific facility for the detection of astrophysical gravitational waves for the purpose of better understanding the unseen universe. LIGO was designed and is managed by the Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the National Science Foundation, and operates twin facilities located in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. Research is conducted by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, comprising some 500 scientists at more than 45 universities and institutes around the United States and in eight foreign countries.

Founded in 1910, AIA New Orleans is a nonprofit organization comprised of nearly 400 professional architects, and connected to the national chapter of 80,000 professional architects worldwide. AIA New Orleans' mission is to represent, educate, and serve the architecture profession and entire community as concerns the built environment. AIA New Orleans has been actively involved with the rebuilding efforts since hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

To visit the LIGO Science Education Center online, go to http://www.ligo-la.caltech.edu/contents/sechome.htm. ###

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227 debwms@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at: http://pr.caltech.edu/media

Written by Deborah Williams-Hedges