Professor Nicholas Lockerbie

Emeritus Professor


Personal statement

Following B.Sc. (Hons.) and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Nottingham, and an ICI Fellowship, also held there, Nicholas Lockerbie went to work for eight months at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, in Grenoble, France (to return there in 1990 for a year’s sabbatical from the University of Strathclyde), before moving on to a Royal Society Overseas Research Fellowship at l’Ecole Normal Supérieur in Paris, France. After Paris, Nicholas took up a lectureship at the University of Strathclyde, in 1980.

As Head of Gravitational Physics at Strathclyde, Nicholas Lockerbie led a small team working on experimental Gravitational Physics. In particular, and working closely with the Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) at the University of Glasgow, this Strathclyde team tackled, inter alia, the devising, constructing, and testing, of specialised instrumentation designed to assist in the detection on Earth of illusive Gravitational Waves. In this capacity Nicholas was, until recently, a member of the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), and its extension, the LVC (the LIGO-Virgo collaboration)—both concerned with the detection of Gravitational Waves. Indeed, he is working at Strathclyde until the end of September, 2019, under an MoU with the Virgo Gravitational Wave detection team—which is based at Cascina near Pisa, in Italy.

Back on 14 September, 2015, an unprecedented discovery was made by the two giant LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) detectors, based in the USA. Gravitational Waves emanating from a pair of colliding Black Holes approximately 1.3 billion light-years away from Earth were detected, it being deduced, subsequently, that each of these Black Holes had a mass of order thirty times that of the Sun. After decades of work (40+ years by some team members), the whole international LSC team was absolutely jubilant!! However, the official announcement of this discovery was not made until 11 February, 2016, after some months of essential in-depth checking of the solidity of the results by the LIGO team.

In consequence of this discovery, on 31 October, 2016, Nicholas Lockerbie was awarded a President’s Medal by Prof. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the Royal Societly of Edinburgh. The Medal was awarded ‘For leadership of the work at the University of Strathclyde which resulted in contributions to the electrostatic drive and sensor systems, for the control of the Advanced LIGO suspension structures— essential for the subsequent detection of Gravitational Waves.’

Moreover, in January 2017, the Strathclyde team of Mr Sharat Jawahar, Dr Kirill Tokmakov, and Prof Nicholas Lockerbie, each received scientific Prizes, including ‘Special Breakthrough Prize Medals for Fundamental Physics, 2016,’ for their collective contribution to the detection of Gravitational Waves.

These Breakthrough Prizes (inclusive of the medals) were instituted by a group of entrepreneurs and philanthropists: Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google), Anne Wojcicki (co-founder of 23andme), Mark Zuckerberg (chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Facebook) and his wife, Priscilla Chan, Yuri Milner (founder of Digital Sky Technologies) and his wife, Julia Milner, and Jack Ma (founder and CEO of the Alibaba Group)and his wife, Cathy Zhang.

LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) is a planned European Space Agency ‘L’ (Large) mission, with a projected launch date in 2034: LISA is already a concept of long standing, however. It is intended to detect low-frequency Gravitational Waves by using lasers aboard a triad of satellites—which will monitor the ‘arm-lengths’ between pairs of satellites with quite unparalleled accuracy. As Gravitation Waves pass the satellites they will modulate the lengths of LISA’s three arms, i.e., the ‘strain of space as a function of time’—each arm being approximately 2.5 million km long. Naturally, the discovery of higher-frequency Gravitational Waves by the terrestrial LIGO (and, now, Virgo) detectors has delivered a timely stimulus to the whole LISA project. LISA will need to make use of ground-breaking, novel, technology, in order to meet its scientific goals, and for this reason a precursor experiment was devised: LISA Pathfinder.

In the run-up to the launch of the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder mission, on 3 December 2015, and subsequently, Nicholas Lockerbie was Chair of the UK Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder Oversight Committee.

The European team which put together the LISA Pathfinder mission launched their ‘technology demonstrator’ into the quiet L1 (Lagrange-point) between the Earth and the Sun, approximately 1.5 million km from the earth. Here, the essential ‘drag-free’ control of the spacecraft was demonstrated about a pair of (essentially) free-floating cubes within the spacecraft, these cubes being manufactured from gold-platinum alloy, 46 mm on a side: lisa-pathfinder-test-mass/. The very first optical bench in space was used aboard LISA Pathfinder to measure the distance between the pair of test-masses, these being under almost perfect free-fall conditions, with unequalled precision. This optical bench was designed, built, and supplied, by members of the LISA Pathfinder team from the IGR. In the event, LISA Pathfinder demonstrated a level of measurement precision that not only exceeded Pathfinder’s own scientific targets—it actually exceeded the target for the future LISA mission, itself!! Indeed, the Oversight Committee heartily commended the LISA Pathfinder team for their extraordinary technical and scientific successes. LISA Pathfinder was de-activated on 30 June, 2017. The cost of the single-spacecraft LISA Pathfinder mission is estimated to have been €400 million: that of the future 3-spacecraft LISA mission, where each spacecraft will be equipped with a large reflecting telescope (which Pathfinder did not have), is estimated to be ‘over €1 billion.’

At the time of writing Nicholas Lockerbie has 200 publications, which include—perhaps unusually for an experimentalist—a theory paper in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity (a ‘niche’ paper which nevertheless has been downloaded over 370 times): ‘The location of subterranean voids using tensor gravity gradiometry’: DOI: 10.1088/0264-9381/31/6/065011.

Currently, his publications h-index is 78 (25/05/2021).

Despite having retired (nominally) on 4 October, 2017, Nicholas remains active on behalf of the University of Strathclyde. Alongside the current MoU work with Virgo, under his present Research Professorship: -

  • He gave a talk to the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, on 18 November, 2017: - LIGO’s and Virgo’s direct detection of a binary neutron star inspiral and ‘merger’—an instrument maker’s personal view.
  • Nicholas was External PhD examiner for Jonathon Baird, Department of Physics, Imperial College, on 3 April, 2018
  • He gave talks at Strathclyde on Gravitational Waves to Advanced Highers students, and some of their teachers, in December 2017, December 2018, and December 2019.
  • Currently, Prof. Nicholas Lockerbie is a member of the UK Space Agency’s four-person LISA Project Management Committee, for the future LISA gravitational wave space project. This committee met in Swindon for the first time on 13 February, 2019.


Towards a high-performance Foucault pendulum for the measurement of relativistic gravity
Cartmell Matthew P, Lockerbie Nicholas A, Faller James E
NODYCON 2021 - Second International Nonlinear Dynamics Conference (2021)
Prospects for observing and localizing gravitational-wave transients with Advanced LIGO, Advanced Virgo and KAGRA
, , Abbott B P, Angelova S V, Birney R, Lockerbie N A, Macfoy S, Reid S
Living Reviews in Relativity Vol 23 (2020)
Prospects for observing and localizing gravitational-wave transients with Advanced LIGO, Advanced Virgo and KAGRA
, , , Abbott B P, Birney R, Lockerbie N A, Macfoy S, Reid S
Living Reviews in Relativity Vol 23 (2020)
On the modelling and testing of a laboratory scale Foucault pendulum as a precursor for the design of a high performance measurement instrument
Cartmell Matthew P, Faller James E, Lockerbie Nicholas A, Handous Eva
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series A: Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences Vol 476 (2020)
A guide to LIGO-Virgo detector noise and extraction of transient gravitational-wave signals
Abbott B P, Angelova SV, Birney R, Lockerbie N, Reid S,
Classical and Quantum Gravity Vol 37 (2020)
Search for gravitational waves from Scorpius X-1 in the second Advanced LIGO observing run with an improved hidden Markov model
Abbott B P, Angelova S V, Birney R, Lockerbie N A, Macfoy S, Reid S, ,
Physical Review D Vol 100 (2019)

More publications

Professional activities

UK space agency   (External organisation)
External PhD Examiner - Imperial College London (2018)
External Examiner
External PhD examiner - Uni Birmingham (2011)
External Examiner
External PhD examiner - Uni Western Australia (2009)
External Examiner
STFC (External organisation)
External PhD examiner - OBSERVATOIRE DE PARIS (2007)
External Examiner

More professional activities


Investigations in Gravitational Radiation
Lockerbie, Nicholas (Principal Investigator)
"Einstein's General Relativity predicts that dynamical systems in strong gravitational fields will emit vast amounts of energy in the form of gravitational waves (GW). These are ripples in the very fabric of spacetime that travel from their sources at the speed of light, carrying information about physical processes responsible for their emission. They are among the most elusive signals from the deepest reaches in the Universe. Experiments aimed at detecting them have been in development for several decades, and are now reaching sensitivities where detection is expected within a few years.
The worldwide network of interferometric detectors includes the American advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (aLIGO), the French-Italian-Dutch-Polish advanced Virgo and the German-UK GEO600 that are being enhanced with a new detector (KAGRA) under construction in Japan. The former detectors have all reached sensitivities close to their design goals and have taken the most sensitive data to date. Cooperation amongst different projects has enabled continuous data acquisition, with sensitivity to a wide range of sources and phenomena, over most of the sky. Modelling GW sources has allowed deeper searches and data from LIGO, Virgo, and GEO have increased our understanding of astronomical phenomena. For example, we have built accurate models to describe the dynamics of spinning black hole binaries for improving efficiency of detection and accuracy of parameter estimation, initiated studies on distinguishing models of the formation and evolution of compact binaries and supernovae, ruled out merging neutron star binary as progenitor of the gamma ray burst (GRB) GRB070201, and shown that less than 1% of the Crab pulsar's radiated power is in GW.
We are now entering a new era as advanced detectors begin their first phase of operation and within a few years will, we expect, routinely observe GW. The aLIGO detectors are based on the quasi-monolithic silica suspension concept developed in the UK for GEO600 and on the high power lasers developed by our German colleagues in GEO600. The AdV detector also uses a variant of the silica suspension technology. Further, KAGRA is being built with input on cryogenic bonding technology from the UK groups.
The consortium groups have initiated and led searches for astronomical sources, thanks to funding support received since first data taking runs began 12 years ago. Key ingredients of several searches (accurate waveforms models, geometric formulation of data analysis to optimise searches, algorithms to search for generic bursts, Bayesian search and inference techniques) were developed at Cardiff and Glasgow.
We propose a programme that leads to full exploitation of data from aLIGO and AdV, building on the analysis of data from the most recent LIGO/Virgo science runs and from GEO600 while the advanced detectors were under construction. In particular, we will refine waveform models and carry out deep and wide parameter space searches for coalescing binaries, GW emitted in coincidence with GRBs and supernovae, and continuous signals from rotating neutron stars.
In parallel, we propose essential detector. Detector sensitivity is mainly limited by thermal noise associated with the substrates of the mirrors, their reflective coatings, and their suspension elements, as well as by noise resulting from the quantum nature of the light used in sensing. Our research is targeted towards making innovative improvements in these areas, essential to maximize the astrophysical potential of GW observatories. We have major responsibilities for the silica suspensions in aLIGO, both in the US and for a possible 3rd aLIGO detector in India, and in the development of enhancements and upgrades to the aLIGO detectors in the areas of mirror coatings for low thermal noise, silicon substrates, room temperature and cryogenic suspensions and improved interferometer topologies to combat quantum noise."
01-Jan-2016 - 30-Jan-2020
Gravity Gradiometry
Lockerbie, Nicholas (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2016 - 31-Jan-2016
Investigations in Gravitational Radiation
Lockerbie, Nicholas (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2013 - 30-Jan-2017
Development Of A Downhole Gravity Gradiometer (AMADEUS)
Lockerbie, Nicholas (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2013 - 30-Jan-2016
Investigations In Gravitational Radiation Apr 2012 To Sep 2015
Lockerbie, Nicholas (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2012 - 30-Jan-2015
Investigations In Gravitational Radiation: Oct 2010 To Mar 2012
Lockerbie, Nicholas (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2010 - 31-Jan-2012

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