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Cardiff scientists share 3M Euros to search cosmos for gravitational waves

16 Hydref 2008


A team of scientists from Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy are part of a Europe-wide project which could uncover the very origins of the universe.

The European Commission has allocated 3M Euros to a design study - the Einstein Telescope project – which could finally find proof of one of the great scientist’s key theories.

Direct detection of gravitational waves – tiny distortions of space-time first predicted by Einstein - is one of the most important and fundamental research areas of modern science. The direct measurement of waves has the potential to allow ‘listening’ back as far as the very first trillionth of a second following the Big Bang. This could potentially provide completely new information about the universe and open up entirely new areas of science.

The project will combine cutting edge technologies to support development of the first pan-European gravitational wave observatory. The result will be a gravitational wave detection device one hundred times more sensitive than detectors. For the first time scientists will have the capability to probe the early childhood of the universe as well as verify ultra-strong gravity predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Funded for three years, the study is an important step towards the development of third generation gravitational wave observatories. Scientists at the School of Physics and Astronomy led by Professor Bangalore Sathyaprakash form one of four technical working groups, and will be responsible for coordinating the development of the science case for different geometric, mechanical and optical configurations of the Einstein Telescope. The physicists will also coordinate with the rest of the team, receiving inputs on the science potential, prioritise the list of scientific benefits and gauge the scope of alternative proposals for different configurations of the detector.

The EC grant is funded from within the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.

Professor Sathyaprakash, whose group is already an integral member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and involved in all the major current gravitational-wave interferometer projects, LIGO, Virgo, GEO 600 and LISA, said: "The grant confirms the importance of gravitational wave research for both basic and applied scientific research in Europe and is a decisive step by the European Commission towards the exploration of the universe with gravitational waves.

"It is incredibly exciting that Wales-based physicists will play such a central role in bringing Europe to the forefront of the most promising new development in the quest to understand the history and future of the Universe and the emergence of the field of Gravitational Wave Astronomy. Einstein Telescope will help us explore geometry of space time near black holes, solve the enigma of gamma-ray bursts and provide insight into the problem of dark matter and dark energy – believed to make up most of the mass in the Universe."

The Einstein Telescope is one of the 'Magnificent Seven' European projects recommended by the ASPERA network for the future development of astroparticle physics in Europe and is a joint project of eight European research institutes, under the direction of European Gravitational Observatory.

Jacques Colas, director of the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) and project coordinator of the design study for the Einstein Telescope said: "With its decision, the European Commission recognizes the achievements made by the gravitational wave observatories GEO600 and Virgo, and paves the way for the development of the first pan-European gravitational wave detector".

The eight European research institutes, under the direction of EGO involved in the project are an Italian French consortium located near Pisa (Italy), Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) from Italy, the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the German Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) Hannover, Cardiff University, the Universities of Birmingham and Glasgow from United Kingdom, and the Dutch Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.