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Contact: Tim Woodhull

September 4, 2000


California State University, Dominguez Hills, faculty members aim to be able to listen to the echoes of creation

If Laser Inferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) is too much to say, try "eavesdropping on creation." Same difference.

Imagine listening to the resounding echoes of the birth of the universe, the earliest moans of the planets, the yawning of the sky, the cries of newborn stars.

Four professors at California State University, Dominguez Hills — Kenneth Ganezer, Sam Wiley, and William Keig, all of physics, and George Jennings, mathematics — are part of an international research team of scientists that is aiming to do just that: Detect gravitation waves in space.

That is the purpose of two observatories, one in Hansford, Wash., the other in Livingston, La. Built for $400 million by the National Science Foundation, they are planned to be operational by April 2002. To detect the ripples of gravitation, the observatories will shoot L-shaped laser beams through pipe three feet wide over a distance of 2 _ miles. Any detected interruption or interference in the beams would mean a detection of gravitation waves.

How would that interference appear to scientists in the observatories? It would be like watching vibrations in the beam of a strobe light that is filtered through a screen door.

If gravitation waves are the most difficult to perceive, they are also the most important to grasp because they explain the structure of the universe, Ganezer said. He calls the effort science's most important project in decades, one of its most significant in history, nothing short of "revolutionary."

"The amount of physics and science we could glean is immense, larger than any other conceivable discovery," Ganezer says.

It would mean proving a maxim of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which postulates that the distance between any two points contract and expand as gravitational waves pass.

And, that would allow us to listen to the echoes of the Big Bang, which created the universe.

"This goes back to why I got into science," Ganezer says. "When I was 10, I read every astronomy book I could get a hold of. This addresses the most basic questions of philosophy and religion. 'Where are we from? Why are we here?'"

And, Wiley adds, the project is important because its technology will illuminate knowledge we've never seen before — perhaps never even knew existed.

"It gives us the opportunity to learn more about the universe," he says. "Each time we've been able to probe with a different kind of energy, we've been able to learn more."

Further information can be obtained by contacting Tim Woodhull, director, media relations, California State University, Dominguez Hills, (310) 243-3367.