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.”