Hi, my name is Akshat Singhal and I belong to Delhi, India. I graduated with M.Sc. in Mathematics and Scientific Computing from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in 2014. During my undergraduate days, I was involved in amateur astronomy for about five years, where I led making of first of its kind planetarium and a 14-inch optical observatory. This got me attracted towards observational physics and I joined Gravitational waves community in IUCAA, Pune. I worked as Junior Research Fellow in electromagnetic followup of gravitational waves for a year before receiving a call from Marie Curie project GraWIToN. We are a group of 14 young researchers coming from different parts of the world and will be working on different specialisation with different partners of GraWIToN in Europe for the next generation gravitational wave detectors. I will be working on data analysis of continuous sources of gravitational waves under the umbrella of one of the finest researchers in the field in University of Rome, la Sapienza Italy.

Currently I am studying in Gran Sasso Science Institute, L’Aquila. It is a newly build institute under INFN where I will be having my necessary coursework before I could shift to Rome to start working on my thesis. I received a very warm welcome here. The staff and faculty here are very friendly specially our coordinator Prof. Francis Vissani. We were given an introduction of all the research done here and a tour to National Laboratory of Gran Sasso Lab. It is the biggest underground laboratory where some of the biggest particle physics experiments are carried out, which are changing the way we do physics. I visited the lab many times and every time it is a new learning experience for me. Lectures in GSSI are given by guest lecturers from other universities on astroparticle physics. Good for me that the lectures are in English language. It is almost mandatory in Italy to learn Italian language as people mostly don’t speak English. Some of the lectures here were the best lectures I ever had, specially the one on General Relativity by Prof. Salvatore Capozziello and on Standard Model by Goran Senjanovic. Unlike the exam policy in India, here exams have no deadline and you often have choice on a what topic to present your exam. I learned a lot here, made some good friends at GSSI.

During coursework in my free times, I often visit University of Rome to meet my supervisor Dr. Paola Leaci, to learn basics of my work in directed search of gravitational waves from binary pulsars. For this I am working on Snag, which is a Matlab data analysis toolbox for gravitational waves data. This toolbox is developed by Prof. Sergio Frasca, who is one of the pioneer in this field. With the help of my supervisor and Dr. Cristiano Palomba, I am currently learning how the software works, how can we use it to inject signals into the noise and how can we extract it back. This way we can analyse the effects of various modulation of the signal before it reaches the earth and how can we correct them to extract meaningful physics of the dynamics of the system. We have analysed the limitations of the current method and how the uncertainties in the directed search affect the detection of the signals. It is good to work with this team and there is a lovely work environment here. Last Christmas we had lunch together with the entire team where I had chat with everyone, including Prof. Fulvio Ricci, the spokesperson of VIRGO.

GraWIToN organises training schools with its partners, which aims to train the GraWIToN students in multi-disciplinary fields for a broader vision in gravitational waves search field. As I joined this project lately, I missed the first GraWIToN school, however I have attended both the school since. My first school was the Data analysis school in L’Aquila, immediately after I joined GSSI. This was the first time I met all the other GraWIToN students, and we had a good chemistry between us. Often after day’s end to the schools and conference we hung out together, socialised, shared jokes, shared our native cultures and enjoyed a good time. The last school was at Birmingham on lasers and optics. These schools have variety of lectures and hand-on workshops which gave us exposure to complex science and engineering behind overwhelmingly sensitive detector.

Then came the breakthrough news. The announcement of the confirmation of the detection named GW150914. This was a game changer, it changed world’s view towards working of the detectors and existence of gravitational waves, the research received worldwide attention from the scientific community and massively by general public as well and to a certain extend it affected the life of people involved in this field. It will be an understatement if I say that it brought a big change in my life. The media reacted very positively and I received instant fame from all around, despite the fact that I was just a toddler, standing on the shoulder of giants in this field. To be honest, often decisions of going towards research rather than industrial jobs are not very popular and raises quite eyebrows. However, a lot of people now started considering them as a possibility after the detection, due to its popularity and I am glad that I was able to encourage some of them towards it. Soon after this detection, we had a conference to discuss the future impact of this detection. There I got the chance to meet a lot of great researchers behind this experiment, all of them were excited and so was I. Very few people are lucky enough to get such a boost in the beginning of their research career.

One of the most important goal of GraWIToN is to give attention to the public outreach. After the news of detection, a lot of people had several queries about the discovery. Astronomy Society of India had organised a general public forum where they could discuss their queries with the people involved in the field, I took part in it and it was exciting to see the response. My undergrad institute, IIT Kanpur, invited me to give a Skype talk on this news and its importance, which was attended by around 200 students. Other than this, there were some common active forums on social media like Quora, Google groups, Facebook where were I tried to answer their curiosity. Surprisingly or not so surprisingly a lot of people were curious to know if the discovery has any connection with time travel or interstellar travel. Then on May 9th one of the rare astronomical event was visible, the transit of the Mercury. It was completely visible from Europe and as an astronomer I was very excited. I convinced our director Eugenio Coccia to organise the event at GSSI for public viewing. We asked 2 astronomers from Observatory of Teramo to assist us with safety equipment and tracking telescope and we were prepared with our setup on the day of the event. Sadly we couldn’t show anything because the clouds cover was followed by showers. We hardly had 10 minute window, but it was not enough.

So far in this project, I learned a lot and enjoyed my journey. Hopefully soon I will be able to contribute more to the subject. In the end I would like to thank Michele Punturo, Elena Cuoco, Erika Morucci for their constant support and all the behind the scene effort, to be there whenever we need their help.

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