University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

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Physicists at Minnesota play vital part in Nobel Prize winning experiment

Vuk Mandic and his research group
Pat Meyers, Andrew Matas, Rich Ormiston, Sharan Banagiri, Vuk Mandic, Levi Walls, Margot Fitz Axen.
Richard Anderson

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Rainer Weiss, Kip S. Thorne, and Barry C. Barish, creators of the LIGO experiment which made the first observations of gravitational waves. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, is a collaborative project with over one thousand researchers from more than twenty countries, including the University of Minnesota.

Prof. Vuk Mandic’s group has been a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration since 2007. The group has made numerous contributions to LIGO, including work on LIGO detector characterization and noise sources, data quality studies, development of novel data analysis pipelines targeting long transient and permanent stochastic gravitational-wave signals, and studies of implications of observed gravitational wave signals.

The UMN LIGO group currently includes postdoctoral researcher Andrew Matas, graduate students Sharan Banagiri, Pat Meyers, and Rich Ormiston, and undergraduate researcher Margot Fitz Axen. Three postdoctoral researchers (all currently holding faculty positions in the USA and abroad), two Ph.D. students, and numerous Masters and undergraduate students have contributed to the work of the group over the years.

On 14 September 2015, two LIGO detectors at Hanford, WA and Livingston, LA observed gravitational waves for the very first time. The waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein a hundred years ago, came from a merger of two black holes 1.3 billion light-years away. Since then, three additional binary black hole mergers have been observed. In August 2017, the Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy has joined the LIGO detectors, resulting in the first three-detector observation of a black hole binary merger and with the currently best sky-localization of the source.

Detections of black hole binary mergers imply the existence of the stochastic gravitational wave background from the population of these binaries across the universe. Detection of this background, and of potential long-lasting transients associated with binary mergers, will be the focus of the future research in Mandic’s group.

In addition to research contributions to LIGO, the School hosted Barry C. Barish as the 2007 Van Vleck lecturer on the topic of "Probing Einstein’s Universe."

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