Indian scientists contributed to Nobel Prize in Physics winners’ research on gravitational waves
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Indian scientists contributed to Nobel Prize in Physics winners’ research on gravitational waves

Gravitational waves were first detected in September 2015 LIGO with contribution from two Indian scientists — late CV Vishveshwara and Sanjeev Dhurandhar.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2017 14:57 IST
Snehal Fernandes
Snehal Fernandes
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Indian scientists,Indian scientists contribution to gravitational waves,LIGO
A medal of Alfred Nobel is pictured prior to the beginning of a press conference to announce the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine on October 2 in Stockholm. (AFP Photo)

Two Indian scientists contributed to the discovery of gravitational waves, which won three US scientists — Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne — the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday.

Gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago, were first detected in September 2015 in the Laser Inferometer Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) with contribution from two Indian scientists — late CV Vishveshwara and Sanjeev Dhurandhar.

India’s participation to LIGO and the discovery as a consequence began in the late 1980s when Indian scientists started collaborating with LIGO group in the US to detect gravitational waves.

“The Nobel Prize is given to a maximum of three scientists, even when it (experiment) is a team effort from all over the world. If this Nobel Prize went to 20 people, Dhurandhar would be one of them,” Somak Raychaudhary, director, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, told HT. “The prize to the top three is given to those who built LIGO. But Dhurandhar built the mathematical tool that was very important to find the tiny vibrations from the passing gravitational waves.”

Dhurandhar, 65, referred to as the pillar holding up India’s gravitational wave research, developed novel algorithms on how to extract gravitational wave signals from the noise created from sources such as black holes, and how to do it with several detectors.

Known as the black hole man of India, Vishveshwara’s calculation was also used for the discovery. The 78-year-old died earlier this year.

“The detection of gravitational waves has been among the major discoveries in the last 100 years. It’s a collaboration that involves expertise in diverse discipline, and therefore the Nobel Prize should be spread across more scientists,” Dhurandhar told HT. “Unlike the past where individuals or small groups did exceptional work, today there are mega science projects such as LIGO or the Large Hadron Collider involving scientists from across the globe.”

Thirty-seven Indian authors who are part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration made it to the paper on the first detection of gravitational waves published in Physical Review Letters in 2016. There have been three more since then; the last one announced in August.

The Indian team comprising 70 scientists across 13 institutes believe the Nobel Prize couldn’t have come at a better time with India set to build the third gravitational wave detector (LIGO-INDIA) — most likely in Maharashtra.

At present, the US has two observatories while Italy houses the third called the Virgo Interferometer.

“Partial acquisition of land is over, and the other half is in thr process. We should have the ground breaking ceremony in six to eight months,” said Tarun Souradeep, project coordinator for LIGO-INDIA, and professor at IUCAA. “Construction of the detector should be completed in 2022, and the science will begin in 2024.”

Setting up a detector in India is based on the country’s geographical advantage since the instrument will form a triangulate along with the two US-based instruments. These three instruments will help locate the source of the event that caused a gravitational wave.

The US detectors cover an area of the sky equivalent to 2,500 moons. With the India detector, the area will become 100 times smaller and therefore LIGO-INDIA is important, said scientists.

A week after the announcement in February, 2016 on the first detection of the gravitational waves, the Union cabinet gave an “in-principle” nod to set up LIGO-INDIA. The estimated Rs 1,260-crore mega science project was first floated in 2011 is piloted by the Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Science and Technology (DST) in collaboration with the LIGO Laboratory US- based Caltech and MIT.

“We need 500 people to build the detector in India. We are trying to get back Indian scientists working abroad; we need industry to build components,” said Raychaudhary. “The Nobel Prize will now help us convince both these sections to come on board for the project.”

First Published: Oct 04, 2017 12:52 IST