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Einstein Lectures

Fast Radio Bursts: The Story So Far

Friday, March 31st, 7:30 PM, White Hall G09
Followed by rooftop telescope observing (weather permitting)

Duncan Lorimer

Duncan Lorimer, WVU Physics & Astronomy Professor, Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology

Fast radio bursts are anomalously dispersed millisecond-duration pulses of unknown origin that were discovered by pulsar astronomers in 2007. Almost a decade on from the discovery, with only a dozen examples currently known, fast radio bursts remain enigmatic sources which parallel the early days of gamma-ray burst astronomy in the early 1970s. I will describe the science opportunities these phenomena present, and discuss the challenges and opportunities presented in their discovery.

When Black Holes Collide! Gravitational Waves and Other Tales from the Horizon

Friday, April 7th, 7:30 PM, White Hall G09
Followed by rooftop telescope observing (weather permitting)

Zach Etienne

Zach Etienne, WVU Math Professor, Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology
WVU Math Department

What happens if you fall into a black hole? Einstein's theory of gravity provides us a means to answer questions that, like this one, fuzz the boundary between science fiction and science fact. But the equations behind this theory are extremely complex, and solving them to advance our scientific understanding--particularly now that gravitational waves have been discovered--usually requires the use of supercomputers. In a nutshell, this is my field of expertise. I will review my career path and present results from some of my latest supercomputer simulations, which have given us both deeper insights into the gravitational waves we have already observed, as well as important predictions for those we are likely to observe in the near future.

Einstein Unyielding: A Catalyst in a New Berlin

Monday, April 10th, 7:30 PM, White Hall G09
Followed by rooftop telescope observing (weather permitting)


Katherine Aaslestad, WVU History Professor

This lecture features Albert Einstein as a public figure in Berlin between 1918 and 1933.  It explores the scientific controversy in the 1920s over relativity and how that debate extended into the public realm as modern science became a lightning rod for critics of internationalism, pacifism, liberalism and the Weimar Republic.  It also addresses Einstein's personal politicization amidst this tumultuous political, social and economic environment that ended with the rise of National Socialism.

Beginning the Exploration of the Universe with Gravitational Waves 

Cooper Lecture hosted by the WVU Department of Physics & Astronomy
Thursday, April 13th, 7:00 PM, WVU Mountainlair Gluck Theatre
Rainer Weiss

Rainer Weiss, MIT on Behalf of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration

The recent observation of gravitational waves from the merger of binary black holes opens a new way to learn about the universe as well as to test General Relativity in the limit of strong gravitational interactions – the dynamics of massive bodies traveling at relativistic speeds in a highly curved space-time. The lecture will describe some of the difficult history of gravitational waves proposed exactly 100 years ago. The concepts used in the instruments and the methods for data analysis that enable the measurement of gravitational wave strains of 10-21 and smaller will be presented. The results derived from the measured waveforms, their relation to the Einstein field equations and the astrophysical implications are discussed. The talk will end with our vision for the future of gravitational wave astronomy.

"little green men" Film

Monday, April 17th, 7:00-9:00pm, WVU White Hall G09
LGM film

Little Green Men is a documentary film about high school students searching for pulsars (a certain type of collapsed star) using radio astronomy data from West Virginia's Green Bank Telescope through the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC).

Why little green men? No, the film isn’t about aliens, although Frank Drake did begin his search for extra-terrestrial life (now known as SETI) at Green Bank. "Little Green Men,", or LGM-1, was the 'nickname' first given to an unknown radio signal discovered in 1967, by Jocelyn Bell, then a graduate student at Cambridge. Once it became clear that the signal was not an alien communication, but rather radio waves emitted by a collapsed star, the name 'pulsar' was created to describe this newly discovered stellar object.

So far our students have discovered seven pulsars, including two rotating radio transients (RRATs), which are unusual pulsars with very sporadic emission. Our first discoverer - who was 15 at the time - even got invited to the White House.

NANOGrav: Using Pulsars to Detect Gravitational Waves

Tuesday, April 18th, 7:30 PM, White Hall G09
Followed by rooftop telescope observing (weather permitting)

Maura McLaughlin

Maura McLaughlin, WVU Physics & Astronomy Professor, Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology

LIGO Documentary

Wednesday, April 19th, 7:00-8:00PM, WVU Mountainlair Gluck Theater

LIGO: A Passion for Understanding
Nearly every day we read articles about great, scientific discoveries, and quote science facts we read or hear from friends. We use advanced technology in the palm of our hands that not too long ago was born of a science experiment. When we take a break from our busy lives, we sometimes ponder what lies beyond the tangible universe, out there, among the stars.

How many of us have spent time, side-by-side with the researchers and scientists who dedicate their lives to understanding distant, cosmic events?

Inspired by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, funded by the California Institute of Technology 'LIGO, A Passion for Understanding' celebrates the dedication of who have worked for nearly three decades on a single science experiment. In this film, we witness the installation of instruments designed to prove the last piece of Einstein's theory of general relativity, and come to understand what scientific discovery means for us all.

Set to a fast-paced musical score, this film delivers engaging animations, timelapse photography, and intense, personal interviews from the high, winter desert of Washington State.

Expanding The Frontiers Of Astronomy With Gravitational Waves

Thursday, April 20th, 4:30-5:30pm, White Hall G09
(NOTE TIME CHANGE: was originally 3:30pm)

Stephen Taylor

Stephen Taylor
Recent breakthroughs in the detection of gravitational-waves (GWs) by the ground-based laser interferometer LIGO have allowed humanity to observe the final death-spiral of two black holes. LIGO will continue to observe more of these, and potentially other types of mixed systems that include neutron stars. In so doing, we will peel away the layers of unknowns about the formation channels of these binary systems, and the kinds of electromagnetic signatures they can produce. But this is just the beginning of GW astronomy. A network of radio telescopes across the Earth have been monitoring millisecond pulsars for decades to forge a web of precision clocks that can catch GWs from supermassive black-hole binaries -- these systems are billions of times as massive as the LIGO targets, and form during the mergers of massive galaxies. Finally, there is growing momentum behind the LISA space-based laser interferometer project, which would be sensitive to intermediate-mass black-hole binary systems, and offer precision tests of the fundamental nature of gravity. With all these projects building steam, and offering complementary views of the GW universe, a new era of discovery is upon us. I will review the current state of research and near-future prospects.