Advanced LIGO Operations Support

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Most of our knowledge about the Universe at large has been derived from what scientists refer to as "electromagnetic radiation" - ranging from radio waves through infrared radiation and light, to X-rays and gamma rays. This has changed dramatically on September 14, 2015 when we directly detected for the first time ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves. The observation of the first gravitational-wave signal (GW150914) generated by the collision of two black holes has opened a new chapter in astronomy. We have discovered binary black holes, and learnt that every 15 minutes somewhere in the Universe two heavy stellar-mass black holes collide. In fact, since September 2015 we have observed nine more collisions of this kind and we are currently analysing a new set of data that contain approximately 40 candidate signals. On August 17, 2017 we observed GW170817, the first merger of a binary neutron star. Electro-magnetic radiation generated in the aftermath of the collision of the two neutron stars was then detected across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from gamma-rays to radio waves, in possibly the most intense observational campaign of a single object in the history of astronomy. Another likely binary neutron star merger has been recently observed during the first part of the science run currently in progress.

The goal of this proposal is to continue to operate the LIGO instrument and use signals from merging black holes and neutron stars to learn more about the evolution of these objects, stars, matter in extreme conditions, and to test our understanding of gravity itself. We will be also begin to install and commission new technological solutions for the first upgrade of these instruments which should begin observing in 2024 and allow much weaker signals to be observed, enable studies and hopefully provide surprising discoveries.

Planned Impact

The group at the University of Birmingham and the consortium involved in this proposal has a strong and extensive track record in working with industry, in public outreach and schoolteacher CPD, which will continue throughout and beyond the period of the request. The consortium has transferred technical knowledge and will further do so to help company competitiveness and success, all feeding back into the UK economy. The UK economy will further benefit through the spinning off of new companies arising from the research or licensing out of the technology being developed.

We anticipate research developments, spinning off from the gravitational wave work to contribute to the grand challenge areas of health and wellbeing via developments of software algorithms which can help with removal of artifacts in scanning medical imaging devices and in the development of hardware which can lead to the differentiation of a variety of stem cells with major implications for medicine. More globally, as a spin-off from the gravitational waves work at Cardiff a Data Innovation Institute has been established to conduct fundamental research into the aspects of managing, analysing and interpreting massive volumes of textual and numerical information. This will benefit projects in a wide-ranging spectrum of disciplines including social, biological, life and engineering sciences.

Public outreach involving television, radio, science festivals, masterclasses and public lectures feature strongly in our present and proposed programmes and the legacy of the effort we have devoted to celebrate the international year of light - such as the development of a laser harp - fit well with the wider public outreach work we undertake in collaboration with the LIGO Scientific Collaboration on the physics of neutron stars, black holes and the Universe as a whole. Working with the Scottish government and Education Scotland members of the consortium will build on previous work contributing strongly to the curriculum for physics in Scotland by extending provision of CPD for schoolteachers in Scotland, producing videos and other material helping them to tackle the challenges introduced by the more interdisciplinary nature of the new school qualifications, and this support is very transportable to be used throughout the UK. The wide range of impact provided by the scale of our programme is excellent for the training of early career researchers and graduate students and we aim to ensure that all our young scientists have experience in these areas, enabling them to have access to a wide range of career opportunities.


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Abbott B (2020) GW190425: Observation of a Compact Binary Coalescence with Total Mass ~ 3.4 M ? in The Astrophysical Journal Letters

Description This has led to the first detection of gravitational waves - that was i.e. awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 and the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize - and the first multi-messenger observation of a binary neutron star merger, gamma-ray burst and kilonova. This has led to the discovery of merging binary black holes and the first observation of neutron star - black hole binaries. A total of 90 systems have been discovered so fa.
Exploitation Route Development of techniques for seismic isolation, metrology and quantum systems, and data processing/analysis/data science
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy

Description Seismic isolation and sensors, data science applications.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics
Impact Types Economic