Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I have been meaning to start this blog for some time now. What you will find here is information about what being a LIGO scientist is like. LIGO is a new kind of observatory that is seeks to view the Universe through minute changes in the gravitational field due to some of the most massive and/or energetic events - like 2 black holes colliding. These changes in the gravitational field are called gravitational waves.

I work at the LIGO Livingston Observatory in Louisiana (about 45 min. east of Baton Rouge). There is another LIGO Observatory in Hanford, Washington (on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where the plutonium for 'Fat Man' was refined). We also work with international partners: Virgo in Italy (funded by Italy, France and the Netherlands), GEO in Germany (funded by Germany and the United Kingdom), and TAMA in Japan.

My job title is "Senior Postdoctoral Scholar in Physics" at Caltech (although I live and work in Louisiana). If you are not familiar with academic job titles, this means that I am a low man on the totem pole. But I love my job and my life! One of the reasons that I am so happy with my situation is that I have the job I want and I get to live with my husband (who is an engineer). It isn't uncommon in physics to have to live somewhere other than with your spouse when you are establishing yourself, especially when your spouse has a career of their own (physicists call this the two-body problem). For now, at least, my husband and I both work at LIGO Livingston.

My time at work is spent doing traditional LIGO research and working with the LIGO Science Education Center staff. To me, this is like having my cake and getting to eat it too; I get to share my love for my work with visiting students and the public while getting to work on site seeking gravitational waves. I have also been honored to be elected to leadership roles in the professional society of physicists (the American Physical Society). I hope to get to share my experiences in service, teaching and research through this blog.

I intend to update this blog regularly. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here and I will try to answer them. But please know that I am not here to argue the validity of General Relativity or alternate theories so I will not address those questions or comments. That doesn't mean that you can't ask physics questions, I'm just not going to argue with you when you try to convince me or others that LIGO won't work because Einstein was wrong about something.

I hope that the material that will be posted here will be useful to someone. I hope that students who are considering becoming scientists and others who are simply interested in this new method of astronomy find this interesting.

- Amber L. Stuver