LIGO Proved Gravitational Waves Exist and I Helped!

Sophia interferometers (002)Well the cat’s out of the bag: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Collaboration, or the LIGO Collaboration, has detected and confirmed the existence of gravitational waves.  Finally, I don’t have to giggle to myself as my friends ask why I am doing research on a project that had such a small chance of success.  Finally, I don’t have to keep secret about one of the biggest discoveries in the modern science, something I have known about since September when it was detected.  It is an exciting time, not just to see the amazing results of a project that I am a small, insignificant part of, but also because that means that a completely new field of research has just opened up, gravitational wave astronomy.

Gravitational wave

Gravitational wave

First, let me explain a bit about gravitational waves, if you haven’t already seen the countless videos.  Gravitational waves were first predicted by Einstein in 1916 when he formulated the idea of general relativity.





In essence, they are the perturbations, or ripples, in the fabric of space and time.  They are emitted from massive systems, like coalescing two black holes converging and merging into one, which is actually what LIGO detected, or giant cataclysms like supernovae.  They are a confirmation of a theory we have been using for a century, but they are also a new tool we can use to probe the universe.  As the comparison goes, “As Galileo’s telescope opened our eyes to the universe, gravitational waves have opened our ears.”

The best part is that I can be a part of the research during this era of discovery, even though I am only an undergraduate student.  Embry-Riddle is a host to many esteemed faculty that do research and encourage their students to do research, and there is an entire department dedicated to student research in the form of the Undergraduate Research Institute run by Dr. Anne Boettcher.  In fact, three professors in the physics department – Dr. Michele Zanolin, Dr. Brennan Hughey, and Dr. Andri Gretarsson – are involved in the LIGO experiment, and actually are the only scientists in the whole Four Corners area (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado) that are pursuing this research.

Research for undergraduate students is incredibly important, but also highly demanding.  I work ten hours a week, reading papers on high-level statistics, writing proofs, learning to code, and analyzing data.  It requires a lot of concentration and persistence, especially since I have had to learn a completely new set of skills and knowledge.  And it means that as a student, I have to take initiative and follow through on something I am not receiving a grade for.  But in the end, I don’t regret it, since I was able to sit in the conference room at 8:30 am and watch the live press release of something amazing.  Since I was able to be a part of something bigger than I was.  Since I have learned so much about something so fascinating that otherwise I would have known nothing about.  And in the end, we discovered gravitational waves!Sophia

Sophia Schwalbe is a Junior in Space Physics, in Air Force ROTC and the Honors Program, and has participated in research with LIGO.

I chose Embry-Riddle because of Spy Camp

Hi my name is Jessica Embrey. I am a freshman here at Embry-Riddle. I am majoring in Global Securities and Intelligence Studies. I have always been interested in this line of work. I think it would be cool to work as an analyst, in an embassy, doing field work, or in counter intelligence.

My brother had just started at Embry-Riddle so I was learning more about the school and the different majors when one really caught my attention – Global Security and Intelligence Studies. GSIS, it was everything I wanted to do concentrated in a college major. Then I heard about spy camp. It was the perfect way to try out my interests so I signed up!

My experience at spy camp was amazing. I met so many cool people that I am still friends with to this day. I also learned a lot more about what I wanted to do in my future. I experienced what it’s really like, not just what you see on TV (even though TV was a big part of how I decided I want this). The camp was very in formative and a lot of fun! We did so many cool activities like encryption and surveillance. It really helped to show me a different side of gathering intelligence. Attending Spy Camps is something that I recommend to everyone who wants to go into this field of work. No matter what summer camp you go to here at Embry-Riddle you will have fun and learn a lot of things. Whether it is an engineering camp, flight camp, or spy camp you will learn a lot and have a good time while also getting a look into a perspective career field and even getting a look at Embry-riddle to see if you want to come here one day! So take my advice, come to camp!

“Mankind was born on Earth, it was never meant to die here.”

If you haven’t seen Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar yet and have any idea of what’s best for you, get out there and see it!  Don’t worry if you haven’t been fortunate enough to see the movie yet, this post is spoiler free.  As a student in our Space Physics program, I had a countdown for the release of the movie and saw it twice in the first 48 hours (no shame).  What I was really pleased about was how many people with little physics knowledge still appreciated this amazing work of cinematic art.  No seriously, my pilot friends were actually really excited about physics afterwards.  That never happens.  The movie was scientifically solid with the help of Dr. Kip Thorne and definitely not your typical sci-fi film.

So you’re interested in knowing a little bit more about what-the-Hubble went on in that movie huh?  We have amazing professors at ERAU that are here to help.  With courses like Relativity, Astrophysics, Space Propulsion, and Particle/Cosmology students are able to explore concepts that were so elegantly displayed in this film and much more.  Personally, I felt proud and somewhat accomplished for understanding the entirety of the movie and encourage anyone with the slightest interest in space to get educated!  Who knows, with all this information, you might be able to make the next greatest sci-fi movie.

If you’re interested in some of the courses available not just for Physics students but for anyone, check it out here!