Published: 06th October 2017
A number of Bengaluru scientists had a big hand to play in this year's Nobel Prize in Physics. Here's how
Bengaluru-based Professor Bala Iyer, who had been working on the LIGO project for decades is now elated about his colleagues receiving the Nobel Prize
The Nobel prize for Physics this year was announced for three US scientists who worked on a global project that discovered the phenomenon of gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein 100 years ago. In Bengaluru, scientists who have been working on the project for decades and have made major contributions to the discovery rejoiced at the announcement.
Prof Bala Iyer, a theoretical physicist who was with the Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru became associated with the LIGO or Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory project starting in the 90's.
It's a dream come true for people who are involved in the project. The Nobel prize comes as a recognition of the monumental work done. The scientists who got the Nobel prize were instrumental in training and mentoring people who ultimately became part of the project. It is a feeling of elation of being a part of something so big
Prof Bala Iyer, Physicist
Prof Bala and his team of students contributed to developing data analysis algorithms to look for gravitational waves. "There are different aspects to the detection of gravitational waves. One is the experiments which are very sensitive and another aspect is devising the instruments to detect the source of waves and nature of waves. There was a need to devise clever data analysis techniques." Prof Bala and his team further worked on tests of gravity using gravitational waves observations.
Bala collaborated with researchers in France to look at analytical modelling of gravitational waves from binary neutron stars and black holes. "In the early 90's when the LIGO was funded, Kip Thorne (one of the three scientists who got the Nobel) called a meeting with all those involved in the field to consolidate global efforts for the project. This was the starting point of the Indian collaboration," says Bala.
At the ICTS, a young research group led by P Ajith, a physicist at the institute and a member of the LIGO scientific collaboration since 2004, took the work of Bala Iyer’s group to another level. They married mathematical calculations from the wave experiments with large-scale supercomputer simulations and produced accurate models of the gravitational-wave signals expected from the merger of black holes. Such theoretical models are crucial for detecting weak gravitational-wave signals from the noisy data and to extract the properties of the astronomical source.
Prof Bala is a visiting professor with the International Center for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) and is Principal Investigator of the InDlGO-LSC, a consortium of Indian institutes and scientists who are part of LIGO project
Their work enabled the LIGO collaboration to estimate the properties of the “final black hole” that was produced by the merger of two black holes. They also developed one of the very first tests of Einstein’s theory using gravitational-wave observations.
"It is not a big surprise that this year's Nobel went to three outstanding individuals who pioneered LIGO's quest for the detection of gravitational waves. This is a landmark discovery in science, which also captured the public imagination worldwide," he says.