“Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vd1Pak5f6GQ

These words by LIGO Laboratories Director Dave Reitze will surely make the history of science. They are still echoing in my head as I remember the press conference, broadcasted from Washington DC, I watched in Glasgow on 11 February 2016. It is hard to underestimate this event, when recounting my last months as a GraWIToN gravitational wave researcher. On 14 September 2015, four mirrors on the Earth were imperceptibly shaken by a couple of black holes far deep in the universe, which fell into each other billions of years ago.

After a few seconds, computers carefully programmed over years, by scientists all over the world, began to elaborate the information. Three minutes later, an email alert was sent and in a matter of few hours about a thousand of people got the news: there was a potential gravitational wave signal!

This is where things got really exciting. In the following weeks, as it was becoming clear inside the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration that the signal was real and not an artefact of some kind, we realised we were the keepers of a big secret, one the world should not know about until the paper would be published. Why? Because if data leaked before we were 100% sure, the credibility of the collaboration would be harmed. Also, it was important that the attention was maximum at the press conference, where the funding agencies could be properly acknowledged. Were the news to be broken before the press conference, that would have lowered the hype about the discovery.

I got to see behind the scenes of all this, and it was amazing: the telecons, the palpable excitement in the corridors, the meetings in unusual rooms to divert non-LVC colleagues’ suspicion. The ritual question meeting someone new in the department: “Are you in the LVC?”

For a matter of weeks, I did not make it into the author list, but being part of the process was really incredible. One thing I realised is how “human” an event like this is. Even though there are procedures to follow and cold hard numbers to look at, people will argue and get passionate about things!

All this gave me a lot of motivation to proceed with my research in Glasgow, looking into optical properties of materials for the mirrors of next-generation gravitational wave detectors. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to present my work in a poster at the Gravitational Wave Advanced Detectors Workshop (GWADW) 2016 on the beautiful Isle of Elba, in Italy.

There was much more interest than I expected in the work done by my group on coatings, and a lot of people came to speak to us. It is pleasant to know that other scientists regard your work as important and needed for the advancement of the field. ­I learnt a lot during the workshop, and had the occasion to network with new people and reinforce the network with others.

Among other trips, I also spent four weeks in Germany working at the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, as one of the secondments that the GraWIToN project encourages to foster collaboration between partner institutions. It was a great experience to get to see a different academic culture and work with some of the finest scientists in the field. After much travelling, it is nice to be back in my beloved lab.

But the GraWIToN’s life never settles: soon I will leave for another secondment in England. Immediately after, a LVC (LIGO-Virgo Collaboration) meeting, one of the biggest events in our field, will be hosted in Glasgow. Then, in September, a GraWIToN School.

Seems like there will be a lot to talk about in the next newsletter! See you soon

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