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Cardiff University scientists help put Einstein’s theory of relativity to test

23 April 2008

Scientists probing the far corners of space could one day witness violent events in the creation and development of the universe thanks to a project involving Cardiff University.

Professor Bangalore Sathyaprakash of the School of Physics and Astronomy is leading a team analysing data gathered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories in Europe and America.

The Observatories use sensitive lasers and detectors to scan the universe in search of ripples in space called gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves are triggered by the movement of massive objects in space, such as the collision of stars and the vibrations from black holes. When these events occur, the force is so great that ripples are created in space, much the same as they would appear on a pond after throwing in a stone.

The waves were predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of general relativity, but as yet haven’t been detected directly.

Now, a seven year £100M upgrade to the detectors housed at the American Observatory means that Professor Sathyaprakash and his team could in the future help detect gravitational waves as they travel to Earth, as often as once a week.

Professor Sathyaprakash, School of Physics and Astronomy said: "The Gravitational Physics group at Cardiff is involved in the search for the most violent phenomena in the Universe, namely collisions of neutron stars and black holes, progenitors of gamma-ray bursts and supernovae. By observing gravitational waves we will subject Einstein’s theory of gravity to the most stringent test ever."

Notes to Editors:

1. Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy

Cardiff has a large and successful School of Physics and Astronomy, attracting some 300 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Physics research is focused in two areas: condensed matter physics and optoelectronics. Researchers are using theoretical and practical techniques to answer fundamental questions about the electrical, magnetic and optical properties of new semiconducting materials and investigating the design and fabrication of new optoelectronic devices. The School has extensive facilities for building and investigating devices made from these new materials. The most spectacular results come from ultra-thin sandwich structures. The novel properties of these devices are being exploited in the design of lasers and detectors.

For researchers and students of astronomy, the School offers modern astronomical laboratories with optical, radio and solar telescopes. The University’s Astrophysics Research Group and the Astronomy Instrumentation Research Group are two of the most vigorous in the UK. Members of the groups regularly use the three main British observatories in Hawaii, the Canary Islands and Australia, and they also use the Hubble Space Telescope and other space observatories. There is also an active theory group that uses computers to investigate the physics of stars and galaxies, and a group developing techniques for detecting gravitational waves, a prediction of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

2. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. The University has recently been awarded its third Queen’s Anniversary Prize for excellence in higher education, in recognition of its Institute of Medical Genetics. The University’s reputation for high quality teaching and research attracts students and staff from more than 100 countries who combine to create a stimulating, innovative and successful academic community. Today, the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research and 2008 marks the 125th anniversary of its foundation by Royal Charter in 1883.

For further details, visit the University website at: www.cardiff.ac.uk

Further information:

Professor Sathyaprakash,

School of Physics and Astronomy

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 20876962

Email: SathyaprakashBS@cardiff.ac.uk

Emma Darling

Public Relations

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 20874499

Email: DarlingEL@cardiff.ac.uk