Mexican participated in discovery of gravitational waves

Guillermo Valdés was part of the team who detected the first gravitational waves
Guillermo Adrián Valdés – Photo courtesy of CONACYT
05/10/2017
12:00
Newsroom
Mexico City
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Mexican scientists Guillermo Valdés was a member of the team of researchers who discovered gravitational waves, produced by the collision of two black holes. 

Scientists Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 for their decisive contributions to the observation of gravitational ripples.

“This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds,” said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Institution in charge of appointing the laureate of the most prestigious award in Sciences.

According to Valdés, it was an ordinary day at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), yet 10 minutes later, the hearts of more than one thousand scientists – coming from over a dozen of countries, including Mexico – skipped a beat when they observed the first gravitational wave.

It's understandable, given that proof of the existence of gravitational waves has been searched for over 100 years, after Albert Einstein proposed the theory of relativity and that gravity was the result of the space-time distortion.

During an interview with the CONACYT Information Agency, Valdés – who is currently working at the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy of the University of Texas, explains that LIGO uses hundreds of sensors, microphones, seismometers, magnetometers, and cosmic ray detectors, among others, to monitor several natural phenomena – gravitational waves among them.

Despite their amazing discovery on September 14, Valdés says no one celebrated or said anything until the meeting at noon they always had.

“In LIGO we have to follow a plan to verify any detection candidate is real. This candidate had all the characteristics of a gravitational wave and one of the first steps was to investigate if the candidate was the product of an injection, that is, a forced manipulation to monitor the calibration of the detector,” he recounted.

“At the meeting, the group in charge of the detector characterization was asked: 'Has any injection taken place during the detection of this candidate?'. The answer was a sound: 'No.'” details the Physicist, who currently holds a scholarship by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT).

“We all knew we had a long way to go before we could confirm the detection was real,” he adds.

From the day of the discovery to February 11, when it was announced during a press conference that gravitational waves were real, there were five months of hard work for all the scientists involved in the experiment.

“It wasn't until February 11, 2016, when David Reitze, Executive Director of LIGO, said the words which have been recorded in my mind and soul since: 'Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves, we did it!' At that moment we cried, laughed, jumped, and clapped out of happiness,” reveals the excited Mexican scientist.

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