Colloquium # 286

Humanity's New Gravitational Sense

By Prof. Rana Adhikari

California Institute of Technology

Thursday, Mar 1st 2018 at 4 PM
Seminar Hall


In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves: vibrations of spacetime that travel throughout the universe at the speed of light. These vibrations are produced by the most cataclysmic events in the universe; exploding stars, the mergers of black holes, and the big bang itself. The waves travel unimpeded throughout the universe and offer a unique picture of these wonderful astrophysical laboratories.

For several decades, it was imagined that these waves either did not exist or were too weak to ever detect. For the last 45 years, teams of scientists have been developing a series of ever more sensitive detectors to be able measure these spacetime distortions from as far away as hundreds of millions of light years. A pair of 4 km long laser interferometers has now opened this new window on the universe. I will describe how our understanding of the quantum physics of the very, very small has allowed us to explore gravitational physics of the very, very large.

About the speakers

Rana Adhikari is a Professor of Experimental Physics at the California Institute of Technology. He has been working on the goal of gravitational wave detection for 20 years. His focus is on the areas of precision measurement which relate to surpassing the fundamental physics limits in order to discover new phenomena related to gravity and quantum mechanics.