Physics is celebrating!

LIGO reports the first direct detection of gravitational waves

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I know, I know it is not microbiology... but I cannot bring myself to post to "In the news" today and not join in the congratulations to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and all the researchers that have made possible the extraordinary feat of directly detecting gravitational waves for the first time.

Gravitational waves -predicted to exist by Albert Einstein 100 years ago (and again he was right, what a man!)- are ripples in the curvature of space-time that propagate as waves. Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts that any cosmic event that disturbs the space-time continuum with sufficient force should produce gravitational waves that propagate through the Universe. In 1974, physicists Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse inferred the existence of gravitational waves emitted by two neutron stars whirling around one another, but they had never been directly detected before. The ones detected on 14 September 2015 thanks to the sensitivity afforded by the new "advanced LIGO" originated by the collision of two black holes somewhere in the southern sky. They were detected during advanced LIGO's first observing run, talk about coming back in style!

What touches me (and, admittedly, makes me ein bisschen jealous) is the thrill of discovery. The joyous “We did it!” that David Reitze, the executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said at a Washington DC press conference. As much as I love being an editor –and I do– I miss the eureka moments in the lab. And this is one huge eureka moment! It not only confirms Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the work of numerous other people, and underscores the importance of big infrastructures for science, but also opens the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy. Physicists now hope to use the power of such radiation to reveal unseen astrophysical objects, like the two black holes seen (heard) by LIGO, and further test general relativity as was never before possible.

The work will be published in several papers in Physical Review Letters and the Astrophysical Journal, but has been broadly covered in the media, including Nature, Science, The Guardian and the BBC.

A Nobel prize in the making... who will receive it is another matter, considering the number of people who clearly deserve it (imagine the author lists on those papers!). Congratulations to all involved!

Nonia Pariente

Chief Editor, Nature Microbiology

I come from a mid-sized city on the northwestern coast of Spain. My interest in science initially took me to Madrid, where I finished university and received a PhD in molecular biology. In Madrid, I studied RNA virus evolution and new antiviral strategies with Esteban Domingo. I then moved to UCLA, where I focused on developing lentiviral vectors for gene therapy in Irvin Chen’s laboratory. In 2007, I made the plunge from bench to desk and joined the EMBO Reports editorial team as Reviews Editor, becoming Scientific Editor two years later and Senior Editor in 2012. At EMBO Reports, I was responsible for microbiology and immunology, among other areas, and spent many years expanding my understanding and love for all things microbial. In the summer of 2015, I joined the Nature Microbiology editorial launch team, handling all things related to virology and mycology (and for a brief while parasitology) and -after a couple of stints covering microbiology at Nature- I became the Chief Editor of Nature Microbiology in 2019. I look forward to interacting with the community and providing a venue to publish the most important advances in the field.


Go to the profile of Andrew Jermy
almost 6 years ago
Nice post. I do occasionally miss those eureka moments too, but they were pretty infrequent in general and grew increasingly rare towards the end of my academic career... I guess that in microbiology the closest that we will ever get to celebrating measuring a universal phenomenon for the first time will be if we ever manage to get comfirmation of microbial life on an extraterrestrial body. I wonder if we will see that in our lifetimes, and whether whoever are the editors of Nature Microbiology at the time will get the scoop.