I am Bryn. I am a Ph.D student at the University of Glasgow, but for now, I am not at the University of Glasgow. Let me explain.
My research is in the field of astrophysics, but more specifically gravitational waves. As with any project, industry, or activity, there are times where something only has a little attention, and times where it’s in vogue. Right now, in physics, gravitational waves are looking pretty cool, but I’ll get to that later on.
Further, if you’re involved with something, there are often places to be. Stock markets have Wall Street, the BBC has Salford, and gravitational waves have a handful of observatories around the world. These are LIGO Livingston and Hanford observatories (LLO & LHO) in Louisiana and Washington respectively, in the USA; Virgo, near Pisa, Italy; GEO600, near Hanover, Germany; and KAGRA, in the Kamioka mines in central Japan.
[Source: Fig 1]
Like I say, it’s only a handful, but it’s a handful more than there have ever been. More importantly, with the effect that technology tends to have, these observatories are getting better at observing with time. LLO and LHO have just finished (mid 2015) major upgrades from the initial LIGO (iLIGO) to the advanced LIGO (aLIGO) phase of the project. Virgo is currently undergoing updates, and KAGRA is the baby of the group. I’m not even sure if construction is finished, but we have great expectations for the subterranean cryogenic behemoth. GEO is falling behind the group in terms of direct science output, but it has an incredibly good duty cycle (it’s always listening), so it’s useful as an old faithful option.
So undoubtedly, with all of this activity, and with the centenary of Einstein’s predictions of gravitational waves this year, there is a buzz in the air about the field.
So, why am I not in Glasgow? There is a time and a place for everything. If now is the time for gravitational wave research, then the place is surely at one of the observatories. So I filled out 500 forms and then I filled 500 more. I applied to Caltech to be a visiting student, I applied to the US consulate for a visiting researcher visa, and I applied to my funding body (THANKS STFC, NSF!!!) for more money, and I applied my knowledge of travelling in order to jump the pond and come across to the US-of-A. I am currently writing from my apartment in Richland, WA, just a few miles from the site of LHO. Let me set the scene:
Source: Fig. 2
A ways back, some people thought that the desert was a sensible place to live. They were mostly wrong. Some of them weren’t wrong, and they settled near a river. Or, 3 rivers, really, the Snake river, the Colombia river and the Yakima river. They called that settlement something, probably. I call it Richland. The good things about living in the desert are that there is very little rain, and that nobody else wants to live around you. So some very smart people capitalised on the abundance of land and built the Hanford site – a nuclear processing site, where barrels full of thick sloshing bubbling paste is stowed underground for millennia. As if the desert wasn’t a big enough incentive, the constant thought of mutant babies and cancer meant that there was even more land going spare around the Hanford site. So more clever people decided to build LIGO there. What is LIGO? I’ll get to that at a later date.
I’m going to be keeping a map of the places I mention in the blog. Let’s see how fancy, smart and integrated we can make it!
So with that, the scene is set. I am here in Richland for the next 118 days, and I will endeavour to keep this blog updated. I hope you stick with me!
[Science mode: not set]