Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

April 06, 1999

Wave of the future

A University of Guelph astrophysicist hopes to pick up where Albert Einstein left off and find a way to detect an elusive form of cosmic radiation.

Eric Poisson, from the Department of Physics, is researching ways to measure gravitational waves. "With gravitational radiation, we're going to see the universe with a completely new set of eyes, and we're bound to see something that was never seen before."

Gravitational waves are produced by the interactions of far-away black holes and other celestial bodies. The forcefulness of their movement generates ripples that spread outward through the fabric of space and time. Einstein first postulated the existence of gravitational waves in 1918.

Unlike electromagnetic radiation, such as light or radio waves, gravitational waves are not produced by electrically charged particles, rather, they are generated by moving masses. Because these waves are so weak, they have not yet been detected, although there is solid evidence that they really exist.

Poisson and other scientists believe it is simply a matter of using the right receiver. Scientists in the United States and Europe are building huge facilities designed to pick out these waves from the jumble of cosmic radiation bombarding Earth.

Kilometre-long devices will use laser beams to detect the minute oscillations that gravitational radiation causes. Poisson plans to study the data collected at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, which will consist of twin detectors built in Washington State and Louisiana. He is currently making predictions about what gravitational waves will be like.

"We are not talking about practical uses, we are just hoping to measure and study the waves," he said. Gravitational waves may contain echoes of the beginning of the universe from some 15 billion years ago. "These events are happening so far away that it takes a long, long time to reach the point of detection," Poisson said.

"What is exciting about gravitational radiation is that it will bring us new information about the universe. All the information we now have came from light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. There has been no other way of looking at the universe."

Contact: Professor Eric Poisson Department of Physics, University of Guelph (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3949

For media questions, contact Lori Hunt, Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338

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