Today the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) announced their discovery of gravitational waves. This confirms one of the predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and opens up a completely new window on the Universe. From now on, (astro)physicists will not only use telescopes and satellites to use electromagnetic waves, i.e. light, for studying the Universe, but also gravitational waves. This is particularly relevant for the most extreme and violent phenomena in the Universe, including phenomena that the GW Astrophysics Group studies, for instance black holes, neutron stars and massive stellar explosions. The discovery was announced in a NSF press conference that was broadcast in a live stream. Students and faculty from the GW Physics Department got together in Corcoran Hall to see this press conference live, and be part of a historic moment in physics and astronomy.
Robert Coyne successfully defended his PhD dissertation entitled “LIGO GRB searches in the aLIGO Era: An Optimized Burst Database and a New Method for
Detecting Intermediate-Duration GWs” on August 7, 2015. Here’s a photo taken at the end of the meeting. From left: Dr. Scott Barthelm (outside examiner, NASA Goddard), Prof. Oleg Kargaltsev (reader), Robert Coyne (candidate), Prof. Kalvir Dhuga (reader), Prof. Frank Lee (co-adviser), Prof. Alexander van der Horst (examiner), Prof. Andrei Alexandru (presiding), Via Skype: Prof. Alessandra Corsi (adviser, Texas Tech University). Congratulations to Rob !
This week the first Capitol Chat meeting took place at GW. This event, organized by Astrophysics Prof. Chryssa Kouveliotou, is the first in a series of small working groups for up to three days to discuss a specific astrophysical question and brainstorm on the possible answers. This first Capitol Chat was focused on gamma-ray bursts and the radiation mechanisms responsible for their gamma-ray emission. All together 22 experts on gamma-ray burst observations and theory gathered from GW, the greater DC area, and other universities and national labs in and outside of the US. The format of the meeting was different than usual meetings or workshops: a limited number of presentations, and many long discussions on the status, progress, and future directions of this particular research field. All the participants agreed that this format worked very well to get to the bottom of some of the issues in the field, and start new collaborations to resolve them. The great atmosphere during these three days helped in getting the most out of the sometimes passionate but always constructive discussions. As part of the meeting, the participants had lunch on Tuesday with the GW astrophysics group, in particular the students and postdocs who presented their research and discussed their ideas with some of the world experts in their research fields. Overall this first Capitol Chat working group was a great success, and will hopefully be the first one in a long series to come.
Last weekend the Department of Physics celebrated eight graduates in the class of 2015: Laura Carpenter, Ryan Heaney, Gregg Khodorov, Laura Lai, Claiborne Morton, Kathryn Schiff, Samuel Stephenson, and Jasmine Vicencio.
The accomplishments of these excellent students were highlighted in a department party in which many family members, other students, and faculty members participated (more than 60 people in total!). Everybody enjoyed some light snacks and drinks, and many very proud parents, grandparents, family, and friends, heard Prof. Briscoe, the Department Chair, praise the graduates for their achievements. He also presented departmental awards to several undergraduate and graduate students: the Outstanding Physics Department Teaching Assistant Award to Ben Kopshik; the AAPT Outstanding GTA Award to Trevor Balint; the Craig Futterman Prize for Best Graduate Student in Biophysics to Adam Hughes; the James MacBride Sterret Jr. Prize in Physics to Sadina Videlock-Prentice; and the Professor Emeritus J. Roger Peverley Prize for Undergraduate Research in Physics to Brian Alden and Laura Lai.
The department was very pleased to award Greg Khodorov Special Departmental Honors. This requires a GPA of over 3.5, both overall and in physics, and a two-semester, in-depth research project. Greg did his research with Prof. Qui in collaboration with NIH, on “Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation as a Means of Exploring Movement Disorders”. Greg is going on to medical school at Rutgers University after graduation.
After the award presentation, the Society of Physics Students demonstrated several of their fun outreach activities, which were clearly enjoyed by children of all ages (from 8 to 80). After donning the robes, the faculty and students participating in the Columbian College celebration had a photo shoot on the Corcoran building steps.
The department is very proud of its graduating class. Congratulations to the graduating students, and we wish them every success in the future!