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12 February 2016

Researchers observe possible scientific discovery of the century

Australian researchers, collaborating with a large international group and supported through funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC), have observed what could be the most significant scientific discovery of the century—the detection of gravitational waves.

A group of more than 1000 scientists from universities from 15 different countries, including Australia, contributed to this research breakthrough.

Using extremely sensitive and powerful instruments known as Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), researchers have been able to observe gravitational waves for the first time. The observation comes almost a century after Albert Einstein first proposed gravitational waves as part of his theory of relativity.

The Australian research effort at LIGO has been supported by more than $18 million in ARC funding since 2002, across a number of ARC funding schemes. Six Australian universities led the Australian component of the research: the Australian National University; The University of Western Australia; The University of Adelaide; The University of Melbourne; Monash University; and Charles Sturt University.

ARC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Aidan Byrne, applauded the scientific breakthrough and said he was proud the ARC had supported the research effort over the past 15 years.

“For those not immediately involved in physics or technology it’s somewhat difficult to understand how truly impressive this measurement is. The technological achievement and extreme sensitivity of the instruments required to detect these waves is outstanding.

“This has been a direct observation and confirmation of a scientific theory developed 100 years ago, but the technology developed through this process, over many years, has already had implications beyond pure science.

“The Australian contribution has been significant and some of the instruments and lasers at the heart of Advanced LIGO were designed right here in Australia, and their wider applications are only just beginning to be realised.”

The U.S. National Science Foundation leads in financial support for Advanced LIGO. Funding organisations in Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (STFC) and the Australian Research Council also have made significant commitments to the project.  

 

Media contact
ARC—Stakeholder Relations, 0412 623 056 or communications@arc.gov.au
ANU—Professor David McClelland (ANU), 0402 395 120 or 6125 9888