National Photonics Initiative Commends LIGO Scientists, National Science Foundation on Greatest Physics Discovery of the Century

Photonics-enabled ultra-precise lasers and mirrors used to measure gravitational waves

11 Feb, 2016, 10:45 ET from National Photonics Initiative

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Photonics Initiative (NPI), an alliance of top scientific societies uniting industry and academia to raise awareness of photonics, today celebrated the discovery of gravitational waves arising from a binary black hole merger as observed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). Confirming Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, this discovery – one of the most significant in physics within the last century – was made possible by the creation of photonics-enabled ultra-precise laser-based interferometers used to measure gravitational waves. The advanced LIGO instrument is capable of making the most precise distance measurements ever recorded; it can detect the change in spacing between two mirrors separated by over 2.5 miles to a precision of much less than one trillionth the diameter of a human hair.

With facilities near Livingston, LA and Hanford, WA, LIGO is operated by Caltech and MIT with support from 150 institutions in the United States, Germany, Australia, and around the globe – a true international achievement more than two decades in the making. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided funding in 2008 for comprehensive upgrades of the first-generation LIGO detectors. The advanced LIGO detectors have 10 times the sensitivity of the original equipment. According to NSF, LIGO is the largest single enterprise undertaken by the agency at a price tag of nearly $300 million and with operating costs of more than $30 million a year. The discovery of the gravitational waves in September 2015 was published today in Physical Review Letters.

In response to news of this discovery, NPI Chairman Alan Willner issued the following statement:

"On behalf of the National Photonics Initiative, I am thrilled to heartily salute the team that has recorded measurement of gravitational waves from a binary black hole merger. This is a scientific accomplishment that rivals any made in physics during the past century. LIGO has spurred the imagination to dream bigger and has pushed technology to places never before believed possible. The development of the most precise lasers and mirrors used to measure gravitational waves is proof of both the boundless potential of science and the role of optics and photonics (i.e., the science and application of light) in enabling significant scientific advancement.

"Our community commends the National Science Foundation for its investment in LIGO and its belief in advancing our nation through scientific innovation. The photonics community is inspired by the multidisciplinary cooperation that this historic discovery symbolizes, and we are proud to have played an essential role in enabling some of the most significant physical measurements to date."

ABOUT THE NPI: The National Photonics Initiative (NPI) is a collaborative alliance among industry, academia and government to raise awareness of photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase cooperation and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and drive US funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining US economic competitiveness and national security. The initiative is being led by top scientific societies including the American Physical Society (APS), the IEEE Photonics Society, the Laser Institute of America (LIA), The Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics (SPIE). For more information visit

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SOURCE National Photonics Initiative