UO played key role in discovery of gravitational waves

Instruments inside LIGO (Photo courtesy University of Oregon)

EUGENE, Ore. - Scientists from the University of Oregon played key roles in the detection of a gravitational wave.

UO Professor Robert Schofield and a colleague decided to leave detectors operating overnight last September at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in Louisiana.

Less than an hour after the scientists called it a night, the detectors recorded a gravitational wave.

LIGO's twin site in Hanford, Washington, where three UO graduate students were stationed, also recorded the wave.

"The signal came in about 45 minutes after Anamaria (Effler) and I left," Schofield told Around the O. "If I had been in the control room, I wouldn't have seen it. It lasted one-tenth of a second. Had I been in the control room an alarm would have sounded, and I could have seen it by looking back at the data. But I was at my motel."

That morning in Eugene, physics professor Raymond Frey got an email from Europe to the LIGO team at Oregon that basically said: "You guys need to take a look at this."

At first, Frey said he and his colleagues thought someone was playing a trick on them.

"It wasn't long, though, when I think everybody realized, at the same time, that this is real, this is amazing, and we had our jaws on the ground for a while. This is the first time to see gravitational waves directly," Frey said, "This is a confirmation of a huge piece of Einstein's theory."

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