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SU physics professor co-author on second gravitational-wave detection publication, honored for his professional endeavors



On December 26, 2015, at 03:38:53 UTC, scientists observed gravitational waves-ripples in the fabric of spacetime-for the second time.

The gravitational waves were detected by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA.

Stephen C. McGuire, the James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor of Physics in the College of Sciences and Agriculture, and principal investigator - LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), Southern University and A&M College, is a co-author on the publication, "GW151226: Observation of Gravitational Waves from a 22 Solar-mass Binary Black Hole Coalescence," which was published in Physical Review Letters, (PRL) during the week of June 17, 2016.  According to the American Physical Society (APS) website, Physical Review Letters is the world's premier physics letter journal.

"The Southern University LSC Group is very proud to be a part of LIGO especially during this monumental period in the evolution of gravitational-wave astronomy.   The impact of LIGO on our faculty and students in the areas of optical materials research and science education outreach has been nothing short of extraordinary.  Local, national and international collaborations continue to be stimulated and reinforced as a result our participation in this forefront physics experiment," said McGuire.  

Southern University has been an active member in LIGO in the area of optical materials research since 1999.

The LIGO Observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and were conceived, built, and are operated by Caltech and MIT. The discovery was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (which includes the GEO Collaboration and the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy) and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.  

An official announcement of the second detection was made during a press conference held at the 228th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, June 15, 2016, in San Diego, California. 

Gravitational waves carry information about their origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained, and physicists have concluded that these gravitational waves were produced during the final moments of the merger of two black holes-14 and 8 times the mass of the sun-to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole that is 21 times the mass of the sun.

The first gravitational waves were detected on September 14, 2015 and announced during a February 11, 2016, National Science Foundation press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to provide update on the search for Gravitational Waves.  At the helm in the control room at the LIGO Livingston Observatory during the first detection was Southern University alumnus William Parker.

McGuire also was a co-author on the publication reporting the first direct detection of gravitational waves.  The article, entitled "Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger," was published in PRL the week of February 12, 2016.

Both discoveries were made possible by the enhanced capabilities of Advanced LIGO, a major upgrade that increases the sensitivity of the instruments compared to the first generation LIGO detectors, enabling a large increase in the volume of the universe probed.

"With the advent of Advanced LIGO, we anticipated researchers would eventually succeed at detecting unexpected phenomena, but these two detections thus far have surpassed our expectations," says NSF Director France A. Córdova. "NSF's 40-year investment in this foundational research is already yielding new information about the nature of the dark universe."

LIGO research is carried out by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a group of more than 1,000 scientists from universities around the United States and in 14 other countries. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data; approximately 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration. The LSC detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector.

The spring of 2016 was a very rewarding one for McGuire, surely, in terms of acknowledgements of his contributions to physics research and science education.

Following the historic announcement of the first detection of gravitational waves, the Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics announced May 2, 2016, a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizing scientists and engineers contributing to the momentous detection of gravitational waves. The $3 million prize will be shared between LIGO founders Ronald W. P. Drever, Kip S. Thorne and Rainer Weiss and 1012 contributors to the discovery.

Shortly thereafter, on May 4, 2016, it was announced that the 2016 Gruber Prize in Cosmology honors Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne, and Rainer Weiss, along with the entire Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) discovery team for the first detection of gravitational waves.

The Gruber Foundation honors and encourages educational excellence in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics, Neuroscience, Justice and Women's Rights, recognizing groundbreaking work that provides new models that inspire and enable fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture.  This year's award will be presented at the 21st International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation (GR21), Columbia University, New York, NY, July 10-15, 2016. 

In May McGuire was nominated for Male Faculty Member of the Year and for his leadership in the Best Research Center, the Southern University - Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Center by HBCU Digest.  The winners will be announced during the annual HBCU Awards Ceremony, July 15, 2016, at the University of the District of Columbia.

Most recently, on June 4, 2016, he was honored by the Southern University Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa with its "Outstanding Scientist in Education Award" at its annual awards banquet.  Specifically, he was recognized by the distinguished group of education specialists for excellence in the integration of forefront physics research with the development of effective teaching methods in STEM disciplines impacting the local community.

"I accept these recognitions on behalf of the many faculty, students, administrators and staff at Southern University and LIGO who, over the past 18 years, have made various contributions toward the success of our partnership with LIGO and our local community," McGuire said.