June 28, 2013
Colloquium Speaker: Nergis Mavalvala
Nergis Mavalvala joined the Physics faculty at MIT in January 2002. Before that, she was a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist at Caltech, working on the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). She has been involved with LIGO since her early years in graduate school at MIT and her primary research has been in instrument development for interferometric gravitational-wave detectors. Professor Mavalvala, whose research focuses on detecting gravitational waves created in the violent collisions of stars and in the earliest moments of the universe, won a 2010 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a “genius” grant carrying an unrestricted $500,000 purse. Professor Mavalvala received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, and a B.A. in Physics and Astronomy from Wellesley College.
Interferometric gravitational wave detectors are poised to launch a new era of gravitational wave astronomy and unprecedented tests of general relativity. I will discuss the status of gravitational wave experiments, and future prospects, In particular, the sensitivity of second-generation of detectors, currently under construction, is expected to be almost entirely limited by the quantum nature of light. I will explore the quantum limit and describe experimental progress toward circumventing it. These experiments not only lay the foundations for higher sensitivity future detectors, but also serve as testbeds for quantum measurement on unprecedented macroscopic scales.