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Investigating Gravitational Waves with Data from LIGO

Students learn about the physics of gravitational waves and how they are detected, and then use real data from a global network of gravitational wave observatories to perform their own personal research investigation.

Made Possible by...

With major tracks in physics, astronomy, and adolescence education in physics, SUNY New Paltz Physics & Astronomy students graduate with excellent employment potential in industry, teaching, research, and government.
The Gravitational Wave Open Science Center makes data available to the public from a global network of gravitational wave detectors, along with access to software tools and tutorials for the analysis of these data.  

Program Description

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) was created as a cutting-edge physics experiment to test Einstein's theory of relativity by directly detecting the faint vibrations of space-time caused by coalescing black holes or colliding neutron stars. In 2015, twenty years after construction began, LIGO finally made the first detection of gravitational waves. Now LIGO and partner observatories make it possible to study the universe in a completely new way from traditional astronomy.

Students in this program learn how gravitational waves can be created and how they are detected. They learn how LIGO processes the data from the detectors and how the weak signal of distant cosmic events can be extracted from the din of background noise. Students then use real data from the LIGO observatories to perform their own personal investigation into the science of gravitational waves.

Instructor: Eric Myers [Info] [vitae] [LinkedIn]

How it works

Students first learn a wealth of background information about gravitational waves and technical information about LIGO. Each student then comes up with their own research question and designs and implements a research plan to attempt to answer that question using real data from LIGO (and possibly other sources). Each student writes a final paper, in the form of a scientific report, which provides the reader with background information sufficient to understand the goals of the research paper, followed by a description of the methodology used and an interpretation of the analysis and results of the investigation.

Student Papers

Read about the results of each student's investigation, in their own words:


Searching for Cosmic String Cusp Events in LIGO's Gravitational Wave Data
by Aiden Brophy '21

A model of the gravitational wave bursts caused by the theoretical event known as a Cosmic String Cusp is used to create a search process for these events in LIGO' s gravitational wave data. The search process is not complete and no new events were found, but the investigation illuminates the challenges of trying to detect the gravitational wave signals from cusp events, and distinguishing them from events with similar signals.

Supplementary material: CuspTemplate.py, Main_Script.py
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