The many Indians who helped discover ripples in spacetime fabric

Rajesh Kurup Mumbai | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 06, 2017

The original discovery paper, published in 2015, has 37 Indian scientists as co-authors, while about 65 researchers from the country were involved in the project

Waves of celebrations are lashing nine Indian academic and research institutions for lending their Midas touch to this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. The original discovery paper, published in 2015, has 37 Indian scientists as co-authors, while about 65 researchers from the country were involved in the project.

On Tuesday, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three Americans — Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish and Kip S Thorne — for observing ripples in the spacetime fabric, which confirms Albert Einstein’s major prediction nearly a century ago (1916). These waves, called gravitational waves, came to earth following a cataclysmic event, when two black holes collided more than a billion light-years away.

These elusive waves were first detected by Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a global co-operation of 1,000 scientists from about 20 countries, in 2015. The three winners are also the founders of LIGO, Bala R Iyer, a Simons Visiting Professor at ICTS-TIFR, Bengaluru, told BusinessLine over the phone.

The discovery paper contains 37 authors from CMI Chennai, ICTS-TIFR Bengaluru, IISER-Kolkata, IISER-Thiruvananthapuram, IIT-Gandhinagar, IPR Gandhinagar, IUCAA Pune, RRCAT Indore and TIFR Mumbai. The Indian participation in LIGO was under the umbrella of Indian Initiative in Gravitational-Wave Observations (IndIGO), of which Iyer is the principal investigator.

“Over the past three decades, Indian scientists have made substantial contributions to the science of gravitational waves, including theoretical modelling of the expected signals and developing sophisticated data analysis techniques for extracting weak gravitational-wave signals from noisy data. The theoretical modelling was done by solving a complicated set of equations set by Einstein,” said Ajith Parameswaran, Associate Professor at International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS), Bengaluru.

“Indian scientists in LIGO have made significant contributions to deciphering the discovery of gravitational waves,” Parameswaran, who leads a research group that is part of the LIGO collaboration said, adding that of the 37 Indians, seven were from ICTS.

A group led by Sanjeev Dhurandhar from Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, initiated and did the foundational work on developing data-analysis techniques to detect these weak signals buried in the detector noise. The theoretical work that combined black holes and gravitational waves was published by scientist and black hole physicist CV Vishveshwara in 1970. These contributions to the discovery are cited in the discovery paper.

Observatory in India

India is also in the process of building a LIGO observatory by 2024. The observatory, for which the Centre has given an in-principle approval, will be based in Maharashtra.

“The final site is yet to be decided. It will help India in transferring this technology to other fields,” Iyer said.

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Published on October 06, 2017
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