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Nobel only beginning for gravitational astronomy: scientists

Scientists part of international collaboration on Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory project, which gets Nobel in physics, say it’s a first huge step

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Published: October 4, 2017 8:49 am
noble prize news, scientists news, india news, indian express news Sanjeev Dhurandhar led IUCAA group that did foundational work on developing data analysis techniques. Express archive

The Nobel prize in physics for three scientists for their contribution in detecting gravitational waves brought cheer at the city-based Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) whose scientists have been part of the international collaboration on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project.

The 2017 Nobel prize in physics was Tuesday jointly awarded to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, all of whom played pioneering role in realising the experiment that confirmed the existence of gravitational waves in 2015, almost exactly 100 years after Albert Einstein had proposed it in his theory of gravitation. More than 1,000 scientists from across the world, including 37 from Indian scientific institutions, were also a part of this collaborative effort.
Prof Sanjeev Dhurandhar, one of the key Indian players associated with the project, said he was extremely satisfied to have participated in the experiments that have yielded a Nobel prize. “My expertise lay in extracting weak signals hidden in noise….It is so wonderful that in my lifetime, the work done towards the discovery of the century has been awarded the Nobel prize. I am ready to die now,” Dhurandhar, who led a group at IUCAA that did foundational work on developing data analysis techniques, told The Indian Express.

“Today, my students talk in terms of teraflops (unit of computing that represents a trillion floating-point operations per second. The more teraflops one has the more floating point operations can be performed per second). Only sometime back, megaflop speed was a big thing. We did not have such high performance computing facilities, so there were huge challenges (when gravitational wave experiments had begun),” he said.

“In the 1980s, when everyone was talking about electromagnetic waves, I focused on gravitational waves which people thought was impossible. But this out-of-box thinking helped,” he said.

Another IUCAA scientist who has worked on LIGO experiments, Sanjit Mitra, said the detection of gravitational waves was just the beginning for the field of gravitational astronomy. “It is a first huge step. There is a long way to go and while we are eagerly waiting for the construction of LIGO-India, the effort should go on to build new generation detectors,” Mitra said.

His colleague Tarun Souradeep said the Nobel prize would inspire younger scientists in India to aim big. Souradeep is the spokesperson for the LIGO India project, an effort to set up similar gravitational wave observatory in India which will work in tandem with the two existing observatories in the United States. He said the site selection for the India observatory had been completed and surveys were being carried out at the location. The LIGO India observatory is slated to begin scientific operations by 2024.

Somak Raychaudhury, director of IUCAA, said there was a celebratory mood at the institution. “What Weiss, Thorne and Barish did was to build such a sensitive machine that it could directly measure gravitational waves. It is, however, unfortunate that another of the gravitational wave pioneers, Ron Drever, passed away a few months ago and could not live to see his work recognised with a Nobel prize,” Raychaudhury said.

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