The US-based National Science Foundation announced today (Thursday 14 February) that Caltech and MIT will share in $20.4 milliom (£15.9 milliom) to upgrade the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), an NSF-funded international collaboration which made history in 2015 after making the first direct detection of gravitational waves.

The investment is part of a joint international effort in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation, which is contributing £10.7 million, and the Australian Research Council, which is contributing additional funds.

While LIGO is scheduled to turn back on this spring, in its third run of the ‘Advanced LIGO’ phase, the new funding will go toward ‘Advanced LIGO Plus’. Advanced LIGO Plus is expected to commence operations in 2024 and to increase the volume of deep space the observatory can survey by as much as seven times.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy played a vital role in the development of LIGO’s sensitive mirror suspensions, which made possible the first gravitational wave detections, and in the sophisticated data analysis techniques which underpin each detection.

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the university’s Institute for Gravitational Research, said: “In the three years since LIGO’s first detection of gravitational waves, we’ve observed a remarkable string of cosmic events including a series of black hole collisions and a neutron star merger, the majority of which would have gone unnoticed here on Earth without the advent of gravitational wave astronomy.

“This announcement of new funding for Advanced LIGO Plus ensures that we’ll continue to build on these strong foundations by making the detectors even more sensitive to the vibrations of spacetime. We expect the steady stream of detections we’ve enjoyed so far turn into a torrent, providing us with invaluable new data about our universe.”

The University of Strathclyde hosts a variety of advanced technologies for fabricating laser mirror coatings – one of the key areas for the new upgrades.

The Strathclyde laboratory has been hosting collaborators from India, supporting the training of researchers ahead of the construction of LIGO India.

The team – led by Professor Stuart Reid of the Department of Biomedical Engineering – is in the process of commissioning systems to be shipped to the labs at TFIR Hyderabad to accelerate the collaborative research in relation to the laser mirrors.

Professor Reid said: “Within a few years of the first detection, gravitational waves have opened our understanding of the universe, teaching us about the origin of the elements and the existence of ‘dancing’ black holes and neutron stars.”

Professor Sir Mark Walport, UK Research and Innovation chief executive, said: “In confirming the existence of gravitational waves, the LIGO project generated unique insights into the nature of our universe and fuelled world-wide interest in science. This Nobel-winning project also illustrated the importance of international collaboration in research.

“The UK’s technological and scientific expertise will continue to play a crucial role in ALIGO+, which aims to further increase our understanding of the events that shape the universe. 

“The UK investment in ALIGO+ and support for a third gravitational wave detector in India underlines UKRI’s commitment to developing existing collaborative research and innovation programmes with partners.”



University of Glasgow

University of Strathclyde