Gravitational-wave innovation could help unlock cosmic secrets

Gravitational-wave innovation could help unlock cosmic secrets

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New frontiers in the study of the universe and gravitational waves have been opened following a breakthrough by researchers at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS).

The pioneering development of thin-film technology promises to improve the sensitivity of current and future gravitational-wave detectors. Developed by academics at UWS’s Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI), the innovation could improve our understanding of the nature of the universe. The research is published in the journal Applied optics.

Gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, are ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by the most energetic events in the cosmos, such as black hole mergers and neutron star collisions. Detecting and studying these waves provides invaluable insights into the fundamental nature of the universe.

Dr. Carlos Garcia Nuez, a professor in the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS, said: “At the Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging, we are working hard to push the limits of thin-film materials by exploring new techniques for deposit them, controlling their properties in order to meet the requirements of current and future sensing technology for gravitational wave sensing”.

“The development of high-reflection mirrors with low thermal noise opens up a wide range of applications, ranging from the detection of gravitational waves from cosmological events, to the development of quantum computers.”

The technique used in this work, originally developed and patented by Professor Des Gibson, director of the UWS’s Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging, could enable the production of thin films that achieve low levels of ‘thermal noise’. Reducing this type of noise in mirror coatings is essential to increase the sensitivity of current gravitational-wave detectors that enable detection of a wider range of cosmological events, and could be implemented to improve other high-precision devices, such as atomic clocks or quantum computers.

Professor Gibson said: ‘We are thrilled to unveil this cutting-edge thin-film gravitational-wave sensing technology. This breakthrough represents a significant step forward in our ability to explore the universe and unlock its secrets through the study of gravitational waves. Gravitational forces. We believe this advance will accelerate scientific progress in this field and open new avenues for discovery.”

“UWS thin-film technology has already undergone extensive testing and validation in collaboration with renowned scientists and research institutes. The results have been met with great enthusiasm, fueling anticipation for its future impact in the field of astronomy of gravitational waves. The coating deposition technology is being marketed by UWS spinout company, Albasense Ltd.”

The development of low thermal noise coatings will not only make the next generation of gravitational wave detectors more precise and sensitive to cosmic events, but will also provide new solutions to atomic clocks and quantum mechanics, both highly relevant to the sustainable development goals of United Nations 7, 9 and 11.

More information:
Carlos Garcia Nuez et al, Amorphous dielectric optical coatings deposited by plasma ion-assisted electron beam evaporation for gravitational wave detectors, Applied optics (2023). DOI: 10.1364/AO.477186

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