A team of scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) are set to receive a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their revolutionary contribution to the detection of gravitational waves. Two Bangladeshi scientists, Dipankar Talukdar and Selim Shahriar were also part of the team of scientists who have arguably made the biggest discovery of the century.
What does this discovery mean for science?
For decades now, scientists have relied on light to detect and study cosmic events. This impaired research to a great extent considering the fact that objects like black holes do not emit light, and hence, until recently, had never been practically observed – these had been tiptoeing silently on the blurred lines separating hard science from fiction.
The discovery of the gravitational waves itself, has not only confirmed the existence of black holes, but also validated Einstein’s 100 year old theory of general relativity. The discovery has been popularly compared to a deaf person suddenly being able to hear. Scientists will now be able to look at cosmic events from a completely new perspective, learn of prior events that happened billions of years ago, maybe even trace back residual wave patterns to the Big Bang itself.
"If we're ever lucky enough to have a supernova in our own galaxy, or maybe in a nearby galaxy, we will be able to look at the actual dynamics of what goes on inside the supernova," said LIGO co-founder Rainer Weiss of MIT, who spoke at the announcement ceremony. While light is often blocked by dust and gas, "gravitational waves come right out [of the supernova], boldly unimpeded." Weiss said, "As a consequence, you really find out what's going on inside of these things."
Having been recently upgraded, LIGO captured the first signals on the September 14, 2015. The waves originated from the collision of two massive black holes, each approximately 30 times the size of our sun, billions of light years away from the Earth.
Selim Shahriar, who leads the experimental portion of Northwestern University’s LIGO collaboration chapter, was part of the team who were directly involved in the process of upgrading LIGO’s sensitivity to gravitational waves. The machine is still being upgraded, and could potentially detect waves from black holes as large as 100, 200 or even 500 times the mass of the sun, and farther away.
The discovery was announced on February 11, 2016, two months prior to the announcement of the Special Breakthrough Prize on May 2, 2016. The prize includes a grant of 3 million to all the scientists involved in the groundbreaking discovery – $1 million to be split among the 3 LIGO founders, and the remaining $2 million to be split equally among all the 1012 scientists who contributed to the discovery.