UWM’s Role in the Discovery of Gravity Waves

A few things you should know about how astrophysicists contributed to the discovery of gravity waves.

When astrophysicists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee helped to confirm the existence of gravity waves, their most significant contribution was in the field of data management and analysis: A UWM supercomputer was among the first machines to identify the ripple in space-time created by the merger of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago.

The data were gathered by miles-long, L-shaped, super-sensitive laser devices in Louisiana and Washington state, and sounded, when properly analyzed, like a chirp. Gravity waves are the last prediction of Albert Einstein’s 100-year-old general theory of relativity to be confirmed and are expected to change our understanding of the universe.

➜ About 1,000 scientists worldwide worked on the project, but it was Prof. Patrick Brady’s team at UWM that led the way in devising a method to detect the black hole merger.

➜ Brady’s Center for Gravitation, Cosmology and Astrophysics raised $3.1 million in extramural funding in 2014-15, about 10 percent of the campus-wide total for research.

➜ The science is complex, but some 200 people turned out for a UWM presentation on gravity waves at Anodyne Coffee, 224 W. Bruce St., in February.

➜ The gravity waves announcement was based on just one-third of the data collected during the project’s first wave. New revelations may be announced soon.

‘Event Horizon’ appears in the April 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the April issue on newsstands beginning March 28.

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Tom Tolan is managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine, where he's worked since January 2016. He spent 24 years at The Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a copy editor, assistant metro editor and reporter. He lives in Shorewood.