One hundred years after Einstein predicted that gravitational waves, ripples in the curvature of spacetime, should exist, scientists in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) measured the waves from a pair of black holes that collided 1.3 billion light years from Earth. This first detection has ushered in a new era of scientific discovery: an era in which gravitational-wave observations are of vital importance for understanding the transient universe. This grant supports the research activities of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee LIGO Scientific Collaboration (UWM LSC) group. The theme is gravitational-wave astronomy with an emphasis on activities on the critical path for the scientific success of LIGO. The project's strongest feature is the synergy: bringing highly-engaged faculty with a proven track record in gravitational physics, astrophysics, data analysis, and education and outreach together with undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs in a close collaborative environment to deliver gravitational-wave science and to engage the broader community in the discoveries to come. This project will convey the excitement of this budding branch of astronomy to the community through outreach efforts such as the UWM Planetarium.
The UWM LSC group will deliver critical elements to a low-latency search for transient gravitational waves including those produced during the coalescence of binary neutron stars and black holes. The group will help develop and operate the data-calibration system, an on-line search for signals from compact binary coalescence, and a rapid parameter estimation pipeline. Rapid identification of signals is an essential element of gravitational-wave science in the Advanced Detector Era, and will enable multi-messenger astronomy in which observations of several kinds (gravitational waves; electromagnetic waves; high energy particles) are synthesized to obtain a detailed understanding of the sources of the most cataclysmic events in the universe. Gravitational waves will reveal the inner mechanism of gamma-ray bursts, provide a means to measure the population of black holes and determine the channel by which massive black holes are grown, and probe the fundamental nature of matter above nuclear densities. New ways of measuring cosmological parameters will become available, complementing existing observations. To this end, this award supports work that will continue to produce gravitational-wave discoveries of binary coalescence, provide rapid sky-localization and parameter estimation to facilitate electromagnetic follow-up efforts, yield fast turn-around targeted searches prompted by triggers generated by other observational facilities, obtain the nuclear equation of state by measuring the tidal interactions of binary neutron stars just prior to their merger, and exploit gravitational-wave observations to measure various cosmological parameters. This award supports the integration of gravitational-wave science into the broader field of astrophysics. The UWM LSC group excels at educating new researchers. This project will train a new generation of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in gravitational-wave astronomy. A main deliverable is a calibrated data set for LIGO which has immense scientific broader impacts. In addition to being used in gravitational wave searches by hundreds of scientists around the world, calibrated data will be distributed to more than 250,000 Einstein@Home users in searches for gravitational waves. As per LIGO open data policy, the data set will also be made available to the scientific community and the public at large.