LIGO & VIRGO - Exploration of the Big Bang by gravitational wave measurement

About the project

In September 2015, scientists from the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made history. With the help of the LIGO project, they measured gravitational waves for the first time.

Gravitational waves are movements in space-time triggered by an accelerated mass. Albert Einstein predicted their existence in 1916 as part of his theory of relativity. By measuring gravitational waves, researchers can study important events in the history of the universe – from supernova explosions, the collision of black holes and neutron stars to the Big Bang itself.

Work on the gravitational wave detector LIGO began in 1992 – today, more than 900 scientists from over 80 institutions are working on the project. In 2017, LIGO was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. The gravitational wave detector VIRGO is the European counterpart to LIGO – under the leadership of a joint consortium called European Gravitational Observatory (EGO), 20 laboratories in six European countries operate the project..

An image depicting the LIGO project
©Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Our contribution

The heart of both gravitational wave detectors is an interferometer. Using the interferometer, researchers can measure the movement of free masses caused by gravitational waves. Here measuring changes is in the order of 10E-18 meters corresponding to a distance of 0.000 000 000 000 000 001 meters. These measurements are extremely sensitive to external disturbance factors such as vibrations, temperature or internal factors such as loss of light (absorption). Therefore an important success factor is therefore the optimization of all components and optics.

Heraeus fused silica Suprasil with its low hydroxide (OH) content enables the production of optics with extremely low absorption. The patented homogenization production process produces a quartz glass which is absolutely homogeneous and remains stable during the coating process.

A representation of a LIGO product
©Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab