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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20104

Dr WASHER (9:04 PM) —Tomorrow in Parliament House, Professor Barry Barish from the California Institute of Technology, who is a director of LIGO; Professor David Blair from the University of WA, who is winner of the Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Award 2003; Professor David McClelland, from the Australian National University, who is Chair of ACIGA; and Dr Roger Netterfield from the Australian Centre for Precision Optics at the CSIRO will be speakers on the Advanced LIGO project, an international project with Australian partners in the USA, Britain and Germany.

The nature of light was investigated prior to 1886—by Isaac Newton in the 1660s and by Thomas Young in the 1790s—but it was not until 1864 that James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves, and in 1886 they were discovered by Heinrich Hertz. The new spectrum, the new bionic ear for the human race, is gravity waves—the vibrations of space itself, created from the beginning of the universe small fractions of a second after the big bang. They travel through space at the speed of light but act more like sound than light. Einstein predicted gravitational waves in 1916. Astronomers Joe Taylor and Russell Hulse received the Nobel Prize for proving their existence by showing that a star system is losing energy by producing gravitational waves.

The acronym `LIGO' stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. LIGO works on the principle that small changes in the position of two test masses as a gravitational wave passes through the observatory can be detected as disturbances and interference between two laser beams. Detecting such changes is extremely challenging, as it is roughly equivalent to measuring from earth a change in the size of an atom on the sun. Although gravitational waves have not yet been detected on earth, it is speculated that they may be within the next 10 years, as detector sensitivity improves. Ultimately, black holes—the regions throughout the universe where space and time come to an end and all matter is lost forever—will be targeted.

The Advanced LIGO project that Australia has been invited to join will have much greater sensitivity than existing facilities, enabling observations to be made in several hours that would previously have taken a year. Even before the discovery on earth of this new spectrum, with all the new associated knowledge and benefits, there have been enormous benefits from the research. Sapphire oscillators that can improve radar 10,000 times have made what was previously undetectable detectable. Both clear air turbulence and stealth bombers can be easily detected with this new technology, making Poseidon Scientific Instruments in WA the world's leading supplier of precision oscillators for radar.

Land based ocean wave monitors that can image and monitor the ocean waves around our coast through the minute and normally undetectable land waves they produce are now possible. High-powered, solid-state lasers developed in Adelaide will revolutionise all forms of cutting, from bricks to textiles. New laser control technology developed in Canberra has applications from space exploration to drug detection. Vibration isolators are used for airborne mineral exploration in WA. Vibration isolation technology in gravitational astronomy stops all movements down to the size of one ten-billionth of an atom. The world's best mirrors, 1,000 times better than the best earth based telescope mirrors and 100 times more precise than those on the Hubble space telescope, are being developed in Sydney. The evening will also be accompanied by fine Aquila Wines from the Margaret River and Blackwood Valley of Western Australia, and I invite everyone to come.