Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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New method proposed for detecting gravitational waves from ends of universe

RENO, Nev. — A new window into the nature of the universe may be possible with a device proposed by scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Stanford University that would detect elusive gravity waves from the other end of the cosmos. Their paper describing the device and process was published in the prestigious physics journal Physical Review Letters.

“Gravitational waves represent one of the missing pieces of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” Andrew Geraci, University of Nevada, Reno, physics assistant professor, said. “While there is a global effort already out there to find gravitational waves, our proposed method is an alternate approach with greater sensitivity in a significantly smaller device.”

Geraci and his colleague Asimina Arvanitaki, a post-doctoral fellow in the physics department at Stanford University, propose using a small, laser-cooled, tunable sensor that “floats” in an optical cavity so it is not affected by friction. Geraci is seeking funding to begin building a small prototype in the next year.

“Gravity waves propagate from the remote corners of our universe, they stretch and squeeze the fabric of space-time,” Geraci said.  “A passing gravity wave changes the physically measured distance between two test masses — small discs or spheres. In our approach, such a mass experiences minimal friction and therefore is very sensitive to small forces.”

While indirect evidence for gravity waves was obtained by studying the changing orbital period of a neutron star binary, resulting in the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics, gravity waves have yet to be directly observed.

The approach the authors describe can exceed the sensitivity of next-generation gravitational wave observatories by up to an order of magnitude in the frequency range of 50 to 300 kilohertz.

Their paper, “Detecting high-frequency gravitational waves with optically levitated sensors,” appeared in Physical Review Letters, a publication of the physics organization American Physical Society.

Geraci also presented his research at the annual American Physical Society Meeting in Denver in April. The meeting is attended by particle physicists, nuclear physicists and astrophysicists to share new research results and insights.

Mike Wolterbeek

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