Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Glasgow
Dates: Oct 2011-Sep 2016
Summary: The first direct detection of gravitational waves was announced by the collaboration of which I am a member in February 2016. The gravitational wave signal arose from two black holes spiralling into each other and merging to form a single black hole. This detection is the result of decades of research and development to construct detectors able to sense the tiny signals created as gravitational waves pass through the Earth, and is likely to be the start of a new field of gravitational astronomy in which the Universe can be viewed via it’s gravitational emissions.
Gravitational waves (GW) are produced by some of the most dramatic events in
the Universe including stars exploding at the end of their lives, black-holes
merging together and possibly by the start of the universe, the Big Bang itself. A
major limit to the sensitivity of GW detectors is the vibration of the molecules in
the detector mirrors due to their thermal energy: this is known as thermal noise. I find it fascinating that our ability to detect the gravitational signature of some of the
largest and most violent astronomical events is limited by tiny vibrations of
molecules in optical coatings. My research focuses on the fundamental physics of
thermal noise in optical coating materials, thus enabling the development of new
coatings to enhance the sensitivity of future detectors. In particular, I am
interested in cryogenic measurements of the mechanical and optical properties of these materials and exploring links between the properties and the atomic structure.
Increased knowledge of the relationship between atomic structure and the optical
and mechanical properties of coatings is likely to have benefits for other
applications of these materials which include use as dielectrics in capacitors and
field effect transistors, biologically compatible coatings for surgical implants and
optical coatings for use in other precision measurements such as laser stabilisation and optical atomic clocks.