MIT Professor Talks Gravitational Waves in Worcester

by Alex MacDougall

The world of science has been abuzz recently with the recent detection of gravitational waves, confirming once and for all Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This confirmation was undertaken by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of physicists hailing from all corners of the globe who, using two L-shaped antennas in the states of Louisiana and and Washington, on Feb. 11 detected gravitational waves emitted from two black holes 1.3 billion years ago .

One such physicist is Dr. Antonios Kontos, a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Originally from Greece, he joined the LIGO group after earning a PhD in Experimental Nuclear Astrophysics from the University of Notre Dame. On Monday Feb. 29, Dr. Kontos came to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester to discuss the event and its enormous impact on our understanding of physics.

Dr. Antonios Kontos (MIT) explains the science behind the detection of gravitational waves.
Dr. Antonios Kontos (MIT) explains the science behind the detection of gravitational waves.

“This event could have occurred once in a hundred years or hundred times in one year,” Kontos said. “Now that it has happened once, we know that these things are happening all the time.”

The presentation, titled “Dancing Black Holes and the First Direct Detection of Gravitational Waves,” showed simulations of the black holes colliding and the subsequent gravitational waves produced by this. Kontos also demonstrated how the two facilities in Louisiana and Washington were able to detect the waves, as well as some of the challenges faced in doing so, such as seismic activity and quantum noise.

Dr. Kontos also stated that the project, which cost around $200 million, has many practical uses for our everyday lives.

“Through this project we’ve educated thousands of physicists and made several innovations in the field of technology, so there’s many real world applications as well,” Kontos said.

The talk was organized by Dr. Matthew Koss, a professor of physics at Holy Cross.

“The minute I saw the article in The New York Times about it, I went on the MIT website to see who I could get to come here and talk about it,” Koss said. “Scientists love to share information and ideas. If you want something, just ask!”

“The ability to detect these waves opens a whole new window into our universe,” Kontos said. “Just like the first humans who looked up and saw light emanating from the stars – it’s that same level of discovery.”

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