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Taking LIGO to the People

NSF Award:

Catching a New Wave: Gravitational-wave Astronomy as a Probe of the Universe  (University of Mississippi)

The Operation and Maintenance of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO)  (California Institute of Technology)

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Want to listen to the sounds of colliding stars? Check out the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) traveling exhibit where visitors test their skills at detecting gravitational waves. You can also learn about the excitement and challenge of searching for these faint ripples as they travel through the cosmos.

The exhibit made a stop at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., in April 2012, where hundreds experienced the impact of this scientific effort. At the heart of LIGO are the world's two largest gravitational wave detectors located in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. Funded by NSF, these detectors are an international resource for both physics and astrophysics.

The LIGO detectors are designed to detect cosmic gravitational waves by measuring the feeble space-time warp that the waves induce when they reach Earth. LIGO senses the waves using a powerful beam of laser light split into two different perpendicular beams traveling into mile-long vacuum arms. After their journey, the beams recombine so they interfere with each other and can be used to measure the stretching and compression of space caused by the gravitational waves. The interferometric assembly of the beams allows scientists to extract information after the beams recombine.

The LIGO Laboratory, a consortium of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, operates the detectors. To share LIGO science with the public, a newly-designed exhibit features interactive stations including a working table-top interferometer that uses a laser beam to project fringe patterns on a screen.


  • researcher works with young children at science festival
Flexing the space-time fabric at the Science and Engineering Festival.
Dennis Ugolini, Trinity University

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