DATE: Friday, June 4, 2010
TIME: 6:00 PM-7:30 PM
VENUE: NYU Kimmel Center, Eisner & Lubin Auditorium
MODERATOR: Marcia Bartusiak
PARTICIPANTS: Andrea Lommen, Kip S. Thorne, Laura Danly, Rai Weiss

Marcia Bartusiak joins Kip Thorne, Laura Danly and Rainer Weiss to demonstrate how two observatories on opposite sides of the country, called LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), may open a new window on observing the cosmos—one based not in light but in gravity. Scientists have embarked on this joint experiment, seeking whispers of far-away violence—like the collision between distant black holes—rippling through the cosmos. It’s taken nearly a century, but technology has finally caught up to Einstein’s brilliance. His 1916 General Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of gravitational waves—undulations in the very fabric of space and time—and LIGO researchers are now poised to detect them.

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Marcia Bartusiak
Author, Journalist

Marcia Bartusiak is an author, journalist, and Professor of the Practice of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT. She writes about the fields of astronomy and physics. Bartusiak has been published in National Geographic, Discover, Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, Science, Popular Science, World Book Encyclopedia, Smithsonian, and Technology Review. She is a regular contributor to Natural History magazine. Bartusiak has twice won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award – in 2001 for Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony and in 1982 for Discover Magazine, “The Ultimate Timepiece”.



Andrea Lommen has been a pioneer in detecting gravitational waves with pulsars. While the idea of using pulsars to detect gravitational waves has been around for more than 30 years, Dr. Lommen’s research, and that of the team she leads, has taken theoretical concepts and transformed them into experimental practice.

Dr. Lommen is chair of the North American Nanohertz Observatory of Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), a consortium of astronomers from all over the U.S. and Canada, committed to studying the gravitational wave universe using pulsar timing arrays. Recently the National Science Foundation awarded her a five-year prestigious Career Award for her work in detecting gravitational waves with pulsars.

At Franklin and Marshall College, where she is an associate professor of Astrophysics, she is committed to creating the first generation of gravitational wave astrophysicists, those whose careers will mature after the first detection of gravitational waves, and who will spend their time “seeing” the gravitational wave universe.

Kip Thorne_200px
Theoretical Physicist
Kip Thorne is the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at Caltech. He was the co-founder (with Rai Weiss and Ron Drever) of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) Project and he chaired the steering committee that led LIGO in its earliest years (1984-87). In the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, he and his research group provided theoretical support for LIGO, including identifying gravitational wave sources that LIGO should target and laying foundations for data analysis techniques by which their waves are being sought. Thorne has been mentor for 52 Ph.D. physicists, many of whom have gone on to become world leaders in their chosen fields of research. With John A. Wheeler and Charles W. Misner, Thorne coauthored in 1973 the textbook Gravitation, from which most of the present generation of scientists have learned general relativity. He is also a co-author of Gravitation Theory and Gravitational Collapse (1965) and Black Holes: The Membrane Paradigm (1986), and the sole author of the the worldwide best-seller, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy (1994). Dr. Thorne received his B.S. degree from Caltech in 1962 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1965. After two years of postdoctoral study, he returned to Caltech as an associate professor in 1967, was promoted to Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1970, became The William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor in 1981, and The Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1991.
Curator, Astronomer

Laura Danly is a spectroscopist specializing in ultraviolet observations from space satellites. Her research focuses on the large-scale distribution and dynamics of the interstellar medium and its relationship to galaxy evolution. Dr. Danly is the co-author of Chaos to Cosmos: A Space Odyssey (2003.) Observant Star Trek: Enterprise fans may recognize her as the author of the fictional The Cosmos A to Z, “the essential guide to space, the final frontier!” that encouraged Enterprise Captain Jonathan Archer to join Starfleet. As the Curator of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California, Dr. Danly develops and implements all of the Observatory’s astronomical, educational, theatrical, gallery, and telescope programs. While at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science previously, she developed Space Odyssey, a hands-on exhibit that allows young people to explore the cosmos, make their own discoveries and walk away dazzled by the wonder of it all.

Rai Weiss_200px

Rai Weiss is a Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Weiss is known for his pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation and his seminal leadership in the conception, design and operation of the laser interferometer gravitational wave detector; remarkable scientific achievements recognized by his roles as a co-founder and an intellectual leader of both the COBE (microwave background) Project and LIGO (gravitational-wave detection). He has received numerous scientific and group achievement awards from NASA, an MIT Excellence in Teaching Award, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Medaille de lADION Observatoire de Nice, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, and the Einstein Prize of the American Physical Society. Dr. Weiss is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. in physics from MIT.