Just this week it was announced that the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA had detected gravitational waves, often described as ripples in space-time, on September 14, 2015.
The spokesperson for LIGO, Dr. Gabriela González, is one of the founders of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of over 1000 scientists from around the world. Born in Córdoba, Argentina where in 1988 she earned her “Licenciatura” (similar to a Masters of Science) from the University of Córdoba. Studying Brownian Motion while at Syracuse University, she laid a foundation for her work with gravitational wave detectors. She was awarded a Ph.D. in 1995 and shortly after began working at the MIT-LIGO group as a staff scientist.
Transitioning to being a teacher as well as researcher she joined the faculty at Penn State in 1997 and then moved to Louisiana State University where she is a professor in the department of physics and astronomy teaching general physics and mechanics courses as well as seminars devoted to gravitational waves. At the LIGO detector in Louisiana, located about 30 miles from the LSU campus, her research involves the characterization of noise, the calibration of detectors and data analysis.
One of the major challenges in detecting gravitational waves is the amount of background thermal noise in the universe which is why while working on her doctorate González studied a way to predict this noise and hopefully eliminate it from the small signal of a gravitational wave.
Einstein predicted these ripples in space-time one hundred years ago, but the technology to detect these waves simply didn’t exist until now and Einstein himself didn’t believe that these waves could ever be measured due to their small size. With the confirmation of the observation of the waves at both LIGO detectors in late 2015, González has been quoted as saying, ““This detection is the beginning of a new era: The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality.”
Written by Angela Goad