The gravitational wave innovation could help unlock cosmic secrets


June 08, 2023

(Nanowerk News) A new frontier in the study of the universe – and gravitational waves – has been opened following a breakthrough by University of the West of Scotland (UWS) researchers.

Breakthrough developments in thin film technology promise to increase the sensitivity of current and future gravitational wave detectors. Developed by academics at UWS’ Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI), this innovation could improve understanding of the nature of the universe.

This research has been published in (Applied Optics, “Amorphous dielectric optical coating deposited by plasma ion-assisted electron beam evaporation for gravitational wave detectors”).

Gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, are ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by the most energetic events in the cosmos, such as black hole mergers and collisions of neutron stars. Detecting and studying these waves provides invaluable insight into the fundamental nature of the universe.

Dr Carlos Garcia Nuñez, Lecturer in the UWS School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences said: “At the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging, we are working hard to push the limits of thin film materials, exploring new techniques to deposit them, controlling their properties to according to the requirements of current and future sensing technology to detect gravitational waves.”

“The development of high-reflecting mirrors with low thermal noise opens up a wide range of applications, ranging from the detection of gravitational waves from cosmological events, to the development of quantum computers.”

The technique used in this work – originally developed and patented by Professor Des Gibson, Director of the UWS Institute for Thin Film, Sensors and Imaging – can enable the production of thin films that achieve low levels of “thermal noise”. This kind of noise reduction in mirror coatings is essential for increasing the sensitivity of current gravitational wave detectors – enabling the detection of a wider range of cosmological events – and could be used to improve other high-precision devices, such as atomic clocks or quantum computers.

Professor Gibson said: “We are excited to unveil cutting-edge thin film technology for gravitational wave detection. This breakthrough represents a significant step forward in our ability to explore the universe and unlock its secrets through the study of gravitational waves. We believe this advance will accelerate scientific advances in this area and open new avenues for discovery.”

“UWS thin film technology has undergone extensive testing and validation in collaboration with renowned scientists and research institutes. The results have been met with great enthusiasm, fueling anticipation for their future impact on the field of gravitational wave astronomy. The layer deposition technology is being commercialized by UWS spinout company Albasense Ltd.”

The development of layers with low thermal noise will not only make next-generation gravitational wave detectors more precise and sensitive to cosmic events, but will also provide new solutions for atomic clocks and quantum mechanics, both of which are highly relevant for United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7, 9 and 11.


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