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LIGO, physics
11/08/1999 08:00:00

Inauguration of LIGO facility to be hosted by NSF, Caltech, MIT

PASADENA—The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) will be inaugurated Friday, November 12, at the Livingston, Louisiana, LIGO site to celebrate the completion of construction.

In conjunction with the dedication ceremony, LIGO will sponsor a scientific conference at the site on Thursday, November 11, to address the science objectives of the observatory. LIGO is a joint project of Caltech and MIT, and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Speakers during the two-day event will include Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation; Caltech physics professor Barry Barish, who is director and principal investigator of LIGO; Kip Thorne, a Caltech theoretical physicist and longtime advocate of an experimental facility to look for gravitational radiation; John Bahcall, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study; David Baltimore, president of Caltech; and others.

LIGO is being built as a national research facility for detecting gravitational waves in the universe. LIGO comprises two detector sites in the United States—in Livingston and Hanford, Washington. The two detectors will work in concert to detect an elusive phenomenon known as gravitational waves, which are distortions of space-time caused by accelerating masses, such as exploding stars or vibrating black holes.

The LIGO detectors are set up in such a way that the very slight distortions of space-time in the vicinity of the detector's arms will cause perpendicular laser beams to go out of phase. Two detectors are necessary to get a direction for the event causing the gravitational waves, and also to ascertain that the signals come from space and are not some other local phenomenon. Both detectors will be fully functional and working in conjunction by 2001.

On November 11, the LIGO Science Symposium speakers will include Barry Barish; Clifford Will of Washington University in St. Louis on general relativity and gravitational waves; Mike Turner of the University of Chicago on cosmology and gravitational waves; John Bahcall of the Institute for Advanced Study on solar neutrinos and their possible relevance to LIGO; Kip Thorne of Caltech on gravitational waves and their sources and signals; Peter Saulson of Syracuse University on suspended-mass interferometry; Stan Whitcomb of Caltech on the LIGO observatory; VIRGO codirector Adalberto Giazotto, who will speak on other suspended mass laser interferometer projects such as VIRGO, TAMA, and GEO; David Blair of the University of Western Australia on resonant bars; and Karsten Danzmann of the University of Hannover on gravitational waves in space.

On November 12, the inauguration ceremony speakers in order of appearance will be Barry Barish; Gary Sanders, a member of the LIGO professional staff at Caltech; Ray Weiss, a professor of physics at MIT; Kip Thorne; Bob Eisenstein, assistant director of the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Math and Physical Sciences; Rita Colwell; and David Baltimore. Caltech Media Relations will assist in setting up media interviews, photos, and broadcast coverage before, during, and after the event. Please contact us as soon as possible to make arrangements.

Written by Robert Tindol