In a small laboratory in CSU’s foothills, campus scientists and graduate students are working to make mirrors.
If you were to observe their work in motion it wouldn’t look like anything spectacular, just a few people looking at golf-ball size mirrors and putting them in big machinery.
Once you learn the research is part of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning mission the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
“It's really exciting because we are contributing to a project that can actually tell us a lot about the universe,” said lead researcher Carmen Menoni.
The mirrors the team is testing are used to reflect lasers in a massive machine known as an interferometer.
The machine is used to detect gravitational waves, a force theorized by Albert Einstein decades ago that physically alters our universe. It wasn’t until 2015 that scientists first detected the waves using an interferometer.
“This [project] is a big collaboration,” said Menoni.
This is how gravitational waves work: we live in a matrix known as spacetime.
Think of it like a massive trampoline-like grid. If you put something heavy on the trampoline it will sink in towards the object, creating a curve that we call gravity.
A gravitational wave is a ripple that occurs in that grid when a massive cosmic event occurs.
The gravitational waves detected in 2015 came from a collision between two black holes more than a billion years ago in a faraway universe. When it passed through Earth the wave caused everything to oscillate, and move along that wave briefly.
It made everyone and everything become shorter and fatter before becoming taller and skinnier. It just happened on such an infinitesimally small scale that you couldn’t detect it with your eye.
Now back to those interferometers that detect those gravitational waves.
There are two of them in the U.S.: one interferometer is located in Washington State and another in Louisiana. Each is shaped like an L, with two arms that each extend precisely 2.5 miles.
At the end of each of the arms are 90-pound mirrors: the ones the CSU researchers are testing. They reflect a single laser traveling at the speed of light.
While at rest the frequencies of the lasers cancel out as they are at identical lengths from one another, traveling at the same speed.
The idea is that once a gravitational wave passes through, the mirrors will move ever-so-slightly because of the force, causing one arm to lengthen while the other shortens.
The sudden discrepancy in waveforms sends a signal to researchers, letting them know that a gravitational wave has passed through.
With more sensitive mirrors, less intense gravitational waves will be able to be detected.
To learn more about gravitational waves, or the entire LIGO team, visit this link.