Physics alumnus Shane Larson (BS, ’91) returned to Corvallis to discuss one of the most important physics discoveries of the century to a packed house at a special Science Pub April 12: “Black Holes & Gravitational Waves: LIGO’s New View of the Cosmos.”
A research associate professor at Northwestern University in the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA), Larson is also an astronomer in the Department of Astronomy at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
The OSU alumnus is part of an international team of scientists working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project that announced the discovery of gravitational waves in February. Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his general theory of relativity in 1915 but doubted they would ever be detected because the waves are so incredibly small.
All that changed on September 14, 2015, when LIGO scientists heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding and uniting to form a third black hole more than a billion light years away. Gravitational waves can convey data about the origins of the universe, objects such as black holes and neutron stars, and processes like supernova explosions, giving scientists new insights into the workings of the universe which cannot be obtained by traditional means.
Larson is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), which consists of more than 1,000 scientists from 15 countries. He has been involved with LIGO for five years as an LSC scientist and his contribution to the discovery includes analyzing data, making detection predictions and careful characterization and interpretation of the gravitational wave search results.
At the Science Pub, Larson addressed the OSU and Corvallis community about the momentous discovery of gravitational waves, the process of detection by LIGO, and its meaning for science, society and our future.
Larson grew up in Eastern Oregon and received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Montana State University. He is an award-winning teacher and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He contributes regularly to a public science blog and tweets with the handle @sciencejedi.
Science Pubs are held from 6 to 8 pm in the Old World Deli, 341 2nd Street in Corvallis and are sponsored by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Downtown Corvallis Association and OSU’s Terra magazine.
Other Science Pubs in April 2016.