Canadian scientist’s unique contribution to the Nobel Prize-winning LIGO collaboration


Toronto, Ontario – November 16, 2017 –  Just over two years ago, gravitational waves generated from a 1.3 billion-year-old collision of two black holes were observed for the first time by the LIGO detector in the USA. This momentous discovery — touted as bringing about a revolution in our knowledge of the universe — came 100 years after Einstein’s prediction of their existence and earned the pioneers of LIGO a recent Nobel Prize in physics.

Compute Canada user, Dr. Harald Pfeiffer of the University of Toronto, provided a unique contribution to the Nobel Prize-winning LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) collaboration by creating simulations to construct the waveform models used in identifying and characterizing the gravitational waves.

“Compute Canada actually contributed to so many aspects,” says Dr. Pfeiffer. “Simulations to construct the waveform-models that found the gravitational waves and analyzed the properties of the source, and simulations for validation. And movies! The movie shown at the official launch [on September 15, 2015] was generated from a simulation run on a variety of Compute Canada resources.”

These advanced research computing resources enabled two ground-breaking discoveries: the measurement of gravitational waves and the observation of never-before-seen astronomical objects. The discovery confirmed black holes exist and collide. The discovery also confirmed Einstein’s revolutionary model of gravity, built around warped and dynamic space-time.

Dr. Pfeiffer and his team of astrophysicists played an important role, joining the efforts of over 1,000 researchers from more than 20 countries working in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

LIGO uses incredibly sophisticated geographically-distributed laser detectors to find the elusive sounds in the universe that prove the existence of gravitational waves. Just how elusive? LIGO measured a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus.

“We are only now beginning to hear the vibrations of space-time that are all around us—we just needed a better ear. And when we detect that, we’re detecting the vibrations of everything that has ever moved in the universe. This is real. This is really there, and we’ve never noticed it until now,” said Alan Weinstein Head, Caltech LIGO Laboratory Astrophysics Group and Professor of Physics, Caltech. (Quote source: SC17 HPC Connects)

Learn more:
Nobel Prize Laureates and LIGO Pioneers Rainer Weiss, Kip S. Thorne and Barry C. Barish

Watch the SC17 HPC Connects video