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Strathclyde helps train Indian scientists to expand Global Gravitational Wave Network

LIGO input optics. Image by  LIGO Laboratory

Researchers from Strathclyde have trained Indian scientists to build a specialist instrument to help enhance the detection of gravitational waves.

The University is part of an international network of scientists involved in expanding capacity and expertise ahead of the construction of a third LIGO instrument – the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. 

LIGO exploits the physical properties of light and of space itself to detect and understand the origins of gravitational waves.

There are already two LIGO observatories in the USA which are the first instruments to observe gravitational waves, associated with the distant collision of black holes, and the subject of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. 

A third detector will be completed in India in 2024, making it easier to locate the sky position of future sources, making it easier to identify possible light counterparts.

 Custom built

As part of that, a custom system for characterising the performance of gravitational wave detector mirrors built at Strathclyde has now been shipped to India.

These mirrors guide the lasers back and forth along the arms and into the detectors that are essential for measuring small changes in detector arm length.

It follows researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, a public research institution in Hyderabad and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune being at trained at Strathclyde,  in a variety of thin film manufacturing and mechanical characterisation. 

The system is used to measure internal friction - how mechanical motion is dissipated into heat -  which is associated with one of the important limiting factors for the performance of next generation of gravitational wave detectors.

Professor Stuart Reid from Strathclyde’s Biomedical Engineering department, said: “It has been a privilege to host scientists from India and to see the safe arrival of instrumentation to TIFR Hyderabad.

“This was only possible through the enthusiastic involvement of young scientists here in Strathclyde, particularly Dr Paul Hill and PhD student, Gavin Wallace. 

We look forward to seeing the international gravitational wave detector network expand over the coming years when LIGO India comes online.

“This exciting endeavour aids in the global impact of Indian research and their contributions towards future observatory upgrades.”

Gravitational wave detectors use lasers to measure the position of large glass mirrors, at an unprecedented level where quantum effects and thermal motion of the mirrors’ atoms play an important role in the ultimate sensitivity. 

The gravitational wave group at Strathclyde, which fabricates some of the highest performance laser mirror coatings in the world, has been actively supporting this effort. 

The initiative has been made possible through support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the British Council’s Newton Bhabha fund, and is coordinated by the Institute for Gravitational Research at the University of Glasgow.