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Gravitational waves discovered

David Blair

Director, Australian International Gravitational Research Centre

As a young boy captivated by the Russians launch of Sputnik – the world’s first artificial satellite – David Blair’s future career was set in stone.

The celebrated UWA Winthrop Professor and Australian International Gravitational Research Centre Director has spent decades investigating the existence of gravitational waves. Dedicated to bestowing an interest in the wonders of science upon future generations, David also co-founded the Gravity Discovery Centre in Gingin for the promotion of science in the State.

First predicted by Albert Einstein about 100 years ago, gravitational waves are vibrations or sounds that travel through empty space. Pairs of black holes that spiral together could form a gravitational wave. These waves, the source of much debate between physicists over the years, are said to have been produced at the time of the Big Bang. Devoting his life to listening to the signals, David likened the discovery of such a thing to hearing the birth of the universe.

For years, UWA has been part of an international project team that has set up gravitational wave detector equipment to measure the waves.

“Vast amounts of gravitational wave energy are believed to be continually passing through the earth. The collaboration of almost 1000 physicists has spent decades developing gravity receivers based on laser technology.”

David Blair

The gravity receivers are designed to pick up powerful bursts of energy from the formation of black holes in the distant universe.

"The birth of a black hole creates a tsunami of rippling space. More energy is given out than our sun emits in a billion years. These enormous bursts of energy travel at the speed of light, and so far we cannot even detect them."

The physicist and keen advocator of science and education has won numerous awards, including the Western Australian Premier's Science Award for Scientist of the Year; National Medal for Community Service; Centenary Medal (for Promotion of Science) and Clunies Ross Medal for Science and Technology.

In a world first, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window to the cosmos. 

Late last year, a major breakthrough came in the way of a detection. In September 2015, waves were picked up at two Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories (LIGO) located more than 3000km apart in the US. David’s son, Carl, conducting his PhD in gravitational waves research, is part of the team operating the LIGO equipment in Louisiana. It has taken months to confirm the signal but David now believes this is just the start of something special

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