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Strathclyde shares in enhancement of gravitational wave network

LIGO input optics. Image by  LIGO Laboratory

The University of Strathclyde has a significant role in a global network of gravitational wave observatories, which is to be upgraded to almost double its sensitivity.

The $US30 million Advanced LIGO Plus (ALIGO+) project will improve the two existing Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatories (LIGO) in the United States, and will be included as standard in the new LIGO India facility from the mid-2020s.

The US National Science Foundation is providing $20.4 million funding for ALIGO+, and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) £10.7 million ($US14.1 million), with additional support from the Australian Research Council.

Strathclyde hosts a variety of advanced technologies for fabricating laser mirror coatings – one of the key areas for the new upgrades.

The Strathclyde laboratory has been hosting collaborators from India, supporting the training of researchers ahead of the construction of LIGO India.  The team – led by Professor Stuart Reid of the Department of Biomedical Engineering - is in the process of commissioning systems to be shipped to the labs at TFIR Hyderabad to accelerate the collaborative research in relation to the laser mirrors.

Professor Reid said: “Within a few years of the first detection, gravitational waves have opened our understanding of the Universe, teaching us about the origin of the elements and the existence of ‘dancing’ black holes and neutron stars.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “In confirming the existence of gravitational waves, the LIGO project generated unique insights into the nature of our universe and fuelled world-wide interest in science. This Nobel-winning project also illustrated the importance of international collaboration in research.

“The UK’s technological and scientific expertise will continue to play a crucial role in ALIGO+, which aims to further increase our understanding of the events that shape the universe. The UK investment in ALIGO+ and support for a third gravitational wave detector in India underlines UKRI’s commitment to developing existing collaborative research and innovation programmes with partners.”

Precision tests

The enhanced capabilities afforded by ALIGO+ are expected to illuminate the origins and evolution of stellar-mass black holes, allow precision tests of extreme gravity, enable detailed study of the equation of state of neutron stars, and permit new tests of cosmology, including fully independent constraints on the Hubble constant.

Technology improvements arising from the project are expected to include quantum optics, quantum information theory, materials science, optical technology, precision metrology and physical standards.

The UK has also led a variety of spinouts of LIGO technology into other areas.  As one example, the development of ‘nanokicking’ has exploited the use of precision measurement techniques to apply tiny vibrations to stems cells to convince them to form bone in the lab. Clinical trials are now taking place in Scotland to apply nanoscale vibration to patients with spinal injuries in an attempt to slow down and reverse the effects of a condition called ‘disuse osteoporosis’ by turning stem cells in to healthy bone.