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by Sofia Villegas
08 December 2023
Scottish University to lead revolutionary project to reach the edge of the universe

An artist’s impression of the future Einstein Telescope gravitational wave detector | M. Kraan from Nikhef

Scottish University to lead revolutionary project to reach the edge of the universe

A Scottish university will lead a project to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure to access further areas of the cosmos.    

Leading a team of seven UK universities, the University of Glasgow will receive a multi-million economic boost to develop next-generation gravitational wave detectors.    

By securing £7m from the UKRI Infrastructure fund, the cohort will build a device with unprecedented sensitivity, allowing new observatories to detect signals from the edge of the universe.    

Deputy principal investigator on the project Alberto Vecchio, said: “This is the very first step into the realisation of powerful gravitational-wave observatories that, once in operation, will take us on breathtaking journeys throughout the universe, discovering many new phenomena.”  

Over the next three years the consortium of institutions will work to develop new mirror coatings, data analysis techniques, and suspension and seismic isolation systems. All of which will allow for the capture of data passing through gravitational waves, revealing information on their origins in space.    

The team's work will form part of two ground-breaking projects across the US and Europe - ‘Cosmic Explorer’ and the ‘Einstein Telescope’.    

The former will investigate the merging of black holes, and the latter will research the nature of dark matter and energy.   

Both projects are expected to be completed within the next decade.     

Sheila Rowan, lead investigator on the project, said: “The next-generation could deliver a leap from hundreds of detections a year to hundreds of thousands – a vast treasure trove of new information which brings with it new challenges in processing the data which we’ll be working to help solve in the years to come.  

“We’ll also be working closely with colleagues to create new coatings and techniques for suspensions for the detector mirrors, which need to be considerably more isolated from outside interference than before in order to make these more sensitive detections possible.”    

This new initiative will add to the UK’s decades-long analysis of gravitational waves.   

  Funded by the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), UK research currently underpins present-generation observatories located across the world including LIGO in the US – which made the first-ever detection of gravitational waves in 2015.  

The announcement also follows the UK Space Agency's recent decision to join the LiteBIRD mission - a satellite that will analyse light from the Big Bang to understand the nature of the universe. 

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