Story by Elizabeth Rhodes
Thursday, June 29th, The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) publicly announced findings from their fifteen year data set. I was lucky enough to attend a watch party at West Virginia University. Sitting with other student summer researchers, I anxiously watched as the panel of speakers was introduced. Applause filled the room as each member was called. However, as the last person was announced, the room flooded with cheers and applause. Of course, this person was their colleague and friend, Dr. Maura Mclaughlin.
Dr. Mclaughlin serves as co-director of NANOGrav alongside the 70 organizations working towards the common goal of detecting gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are ripples in space that support Einstein’s theory of general relativity. New evidence from pulsar timing further proves the theory that space exists in a cosmic background being stretched and squeezed.
Pulsars, a type of neutron star, are rapidly spinning like a lighthouse beam. These massive objects serve as time keepers in the sky due to their precise timing. Astrophysicists can use the pulsars to observe the effects of a possible cosmic background.
NANOGrav’s groundbreaking results open up a new field of astrophysics– low frequency gravitational waves. Learn more about the results here.
In addition to her groundbreaking research on gravitational waves, Mclaughlin was also awarded the highly prestigious Shaw prize in astronomy along with Dr. Duncan Lorimer and Dr. Matthew Bailes for the discovery of fast radio bursts.
Dr. Mclaughlin credits much of her success to the community of researchers working alongside her. She expressed her gratitude in her speech for the NANOGrav announcement acknowledging everyone from co-workers to high school students.
“These results would not be possible without each and every one of our NANOGrav members, and I am personally so grateful to work with the most amazing and wonderful group of people in the world.” – Dr. Mclaughlin
This is an exciting new chapter in astrophysics for the whole community. All the same, it is evident that West Virginia natives are proud to watch the advancements from our own backyard.
This article was written by Elizabeth Rhodes, a rising freshman at Barnard College, Columbia University. Elizabeth interned in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at West Virginia University as a part of the summer 2023 NSF REU Astrophysics program.