Friday, 30 October 2020 09:38

Scientists from three universities share PM's prize for science

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Professor Peter Veitch: ""With this type of research we stay at the absolute forefront of technology." Professor Peter Veitch: ""With this type of research we stay at the absolute forefront of technology." Supplied

Scientists from three universities — Professor Peter Veitch from University of Adelaide, Professor David McClelland and Professor Susan Scott from Australian National University and Professor Emeritus David Blair from University of Western Australia — have won the the Prime Minister's Prize for Science, Australia's most prestigious award for scientific research.

A statement from the University of Adelaide said the award was for research into the detection of gravitational waves, a scientific breakthrough in 2016.

The international team involved announced at the time that they had found the "ripples in spacetime" predicted by the late Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity 100 years previously.

"Gravitational waves are produced by cataclysmic events in the distant universe such as colliding black holes and neutron stars or the massive explosions of supernovae," the statement said.

"The original detection came from the merger of two black holes more than a billion years ago. Since then there have been more than 50 detections including, in 2017, the first observation of two neutron stars colliding, an event which heralded 'multi-messenger astronomy'."

black holes

An artist's impression of binary black holes about to collide. Image credit: Mark Myers, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav)

Professor Michael Brooks, interim vice-chancellor and president, University of Adelaide, said: "The detection of gravitational waves is arguably among the greatest scientific discoveries of this century, recognised by the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

"It has opened up a new way of exploring our universe and our origins, and is already having a huge impact on physics and astronomy.

"It was a technological triumph. We are extremely proud of Peter, and the role he and the team here in the Department of Physics have played in this discovery and their ongoing work to push the boundaries in detection sensitivities, and applying these advanced technologies to a broad variety of other fields."

The quartet who were given the prize have collaborated on the search for 30 years, bringing complementary parts to the gravitational-wave detector project led by the global LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

The Australian research into gravitational waves is continuing within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).

The team at the University of Adelaide developed and installed ultra-high precision optical sensors which can be used to correct distortion of the laser beams within LIGO detectors, enabling the high sensitivity needed to detect these minute signals.

Work is continuing on advanced lasers and optics to enhance the sensitivity of the detectors, and the technologies are finding other application in fields as diverse as remote sensing, medicine and defence.

"I'm incredibly honoured to receive this award," said Professor Veitch. "It recognises the contribution that Australia has made and continues to make to the detection of gravitational waves. And that discovery was enabled by having the most sensitive detectors in the world – made possible by the technology we've developed here at the University of Adelaide."

peter veitch

Professor Peter Veitch at work. Supplied

The Adelaide team includes academic and research staff Professor David Ottaway, Professor Emeritus Jesper Munch, Dr Dan Brown, Dr Sebastian Ng and Dr Huy Cao; post-graduate students Alexei Ciobanu, Deeksha Beniwal, Sophie Muuse, Kendall Jenner, Zachary Holmes, Mitchell Schiworski and Muskan Pathak; and under-graduate students Georgia Bolingbroke and Thomas Roocke.

"With this type of research we stay at the absolute forefront of technology," said Professor Veitch. "My students get to work with the best people in the world, on the best project in the world.

"I'd encourage any student to think about what it is they want to do. When I started working in this field the detection of gravitational waves was so far into the future that sometimes people used to make jokes about us.

"But it was something I wanted to do because it was about Einstein, space and advanced technology. Everybody's interested in space and astronomy.

"People want to know how it is we're here, why we are here, or what's out there. Finding answers to these questions is what this type of research and these type of activities allows us to do."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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