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Aiding in Gravitational Wave Discovery

Cottrell Scholar and Scialog Fellow Duncan Brown, the Charles Brightman Professor of Physics at Syracuse University, and several of his students, took part in a watershed moment in the 100-year quest to detect gravitational waves.

It was announced February 11th that LIGO --the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory – had finally detected gravitational waves first predicted by Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. They were detected on September 14, 2015, at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time by both of the LIGO detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington.

Brown has been working on the search for gravitational waves from compact-object binaries for the last 17 years.

“The goal of my research is to use gravitational waves to explore fundamental physics and astrophysics,” he notes. “I led the team that performed the modeled search for binary black holes reported in the recent discovery paper.”

Brown and his students use relativistic models to search for binary black hole signals. They worked closely with the Caltech-Cornell Simulating Extreme Spacetimes (SXS) collaboration, whose members are leaders in the numerical simulation of the waves emitted in binary black hole mergers.

“Together, the LIGO and SXS research allows us to study the gravitational waves generated deep in the curvature of a massive black holes,” Brown says.

In the tradition of Cottrell Scholar's commitment to involving undergraduate students in research, two of Brown’s undergraduate students, Samantha Usman and Amber Lenon, worked on the computational algorithms for the binary black hole search.

“Usman is the lead author on the paper describing the improvements that we have made to the algorithms used in Initial LIGO. Usman's paper is cited in the discovery paper in Physical Review Letters,” Brown said.

The gravitational-wave sky is now wide open to researchers, giving science a new frontier to explore the universe.

“There are incredible possibilities for new discoveries: in nuclear astrophysics, in figuring out how stars die in supernovae, in understanding the nature of gravity itself,” Brown says. “RCSA's vision in supporting my research in this new field has helped make this possible.”

Brown became a Cottrell Scholar in 2010; he is also a 2015 Scialog: Time Domain Astrophysics Fellow.

Duncan Brown video lecture on gravitational-wave astronomy:


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