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Joshua Ramette and his research. Joshua Ramette | Courtesy

The Laser Inter­fer­ometer Grav­i­ta­tional-Wave Obser­vatory, or LIGO, uses a high-powered laser beam reflected across a series of mirrors to detect grav­i­ta­tional waves, a phe­nomenon pre­dicted in Albert Einstein’s work.

Pro­fessor of Physics Ryan Lang and senior Joshua Ramette pre­sented their con­tri­bu­tions to LIGO, the largest project ever funded by the National Science Foun­dation, at a meeting of the American Physical Society, or APS, on Jan. 28 – 31 in Wash­ington, D.C.

Lang and Ramette were among 1,160 other pre­senters at the APS meeting, which is the world’s second-largest physics society, according to its website.

Ramette pre­sented a poster about the research project he worked on at the LIGO Liv­ingston Obser­vatory in Louisiana during summer 2015.

LIGO’s high-power lasers cause the mirrors to heat up unevenly as the lasers reflect off them, which can distort the laser’s path and affect the quality of the data. Ramette helped to correct the tem­per­ature of the mirrors, using a device called a ring heater, which stan­dardizes the tem­per­ature throughout each mirror.

Lang dis­cussed some of the initial LIGO results as well as the com­puter codes that help sort through the data and look for pos­sible grav­i­ta­tional waves, which are pro­duced by black holes merging bil­lions of light years away.

“I’ve been in the field for a long time, so I got to meet up with some of my col­leagues,” Lang said. “The important part was not just pre­senting Josh’s poster but meeting all these people since he’s pos­sibly going into this field.”

At the meeting, physi­cists pre­sented research about grav­i­ta­tional waves, high-energy physics, and astro­physics.

While in the capital, Ramette and Lang also attended a meeting of the L3 science team, which dis­cussed the logistics of a mission called LISA scheduled to launch in the 2030s. LISA, the Laser Inter­fer­ometer Space Antenna, will be able to detect grav­i­ta­tional waves from space, avoiding the signal inter­ference caused by Earth’s vibration. LISA will also detect grav­i­ta­tional waves of dif­ferent fre­quencies, and the data it pro­duces will help researchers get a better idea of the location of black holes.

“It was really cool, because I could see myself getting involved with the space-based grav­i­ta­tional waves detector in the future, pos­sibly, and I got an update of where they’re at right now and what their time frame is for the research in that project,” Ramette said.

Ramette said he encourages stu­dents who would like to get involved with grav­i­ta­tional wave work to talk to Lang, who helps with data analysis. This project gives physics stu­dents an oppor­tunity to learn math, com­puter science, and coding.

“It’s kind of incredible,” Ramette said. “Over the last two years, with the addi­tions of Dr. Lang and Dr. Dolch to the physics staff and with all the stu­dents par­tic­i­pating in this, Hillsdale is almost a kind of mini grav­i­ta­tional-wave hub.”