Research

FAU Scientists Have Connection to Key Discovery in Physics

The recent discovery that gravitational waves exist, proving Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, has excited physicists across the globe. FAU scientists are no exception – and for good reason.

The breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves, together with the finding of the Higgs boson in 2012 – one of the most sought after objects in the history of mankind – fundamentally affects how we understand the Universe.


By Gisele Galoustian | 2/15/2016

The recent discovery that gravitational waves exist, proving Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, has excited physicists across the globe. Scientists at Florida Atlantic University are no exception – and for good reason. Ruslan Vaulin, Ph.D., co-author of the paper announcing this discovery, received his Ph.D. at FAU under the tutelage of Warner Miller, Ph.D., former chair of FAU’s Department of Physics and the current associate dean for research in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Furthermore, in their data analysis, researchers of this discovery used a technique pioneered by Pedro Marronetti, Ph.D., a former professor at FAU and program manager at the National Science Foundation in charge of gravitational research.

“Ongoing research in our physics department continues to focus on matters related to this groundbreaking discovery,” said Miller. “For example, Dr. Wolfgang Tichy, a professor of physics at FAU, is simulating the merging of neutron stars. In combination with gravitational wave detection, this research will provide important insights into the behavior of matter under extreme conditions.”

The breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves, together with the finding of the Higgs boson in 2012 – one of the most sought after objects in the history of mankind – fundamentally affects how we understand the Universe.   

“For the longest time, humans assumed that space was a vast emptiness through which objects moved as time went on,” said Luc T. Wille, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of FAU’s Department of Physics. “All this changed about 100 years ago with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity in which he postulated that space and time are interconnected and form a kind of fabric.”

Wille explains that this space-time web is so sheer that it cannot be detected by ordinary means. However, a cataclysmic event, such as the collision of two black holes, can set up a ripple in this fabric, very much like dropping a pebble in a pond, which produces water waves on the surface. These ripples are so minute, smaller than the size of an atom, that only extremely sensitive equipment can detect them.

“Last week’s announcement confirmed the observation of such a gravitational wave, due to the merging of two black holes about 1.3 billion years ago,” said Wille. “This is an important finding as basic breakthroughs in physics have a habit of spinning off technologies that impact everyday life, from computers to cell phones.”

FAU’s Physics Department is planning a public lecture series discussing these results in the coming weeks.

-FAU-

 Last Modified 11/8/16