Spacetime Symphony: Gravitational Waves and Black Holes

  

Once again, Dr. Einstein was right! And Dr. Lynn Cominsky from Sonoma State University is a member of the team that detected direct evidence of what is arguably the last major unconfirmed prediction of Einsteinโ€™s General Theory of Relativity. Her work helped launch the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy.

Dr. Lynn Cominsky presents an introduction to gravitational waves, black holes and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) . She discusses the gravitational wave detection results reported to date from LIGO and Virgo (another gravitational wave interferometer). On September 14, 2015, LIGO received the first confirmed gravitational wave signals. Now known as GW150914, the event represents the coalescence of two distant black holes that were previously in mutual orbit.

Professor Cominsky grew up in the snows of Buffalo, New York, and attended college at Brandeis University, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. After graduating from college, she worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, analyzing data from the first X-ray astronomy satellite, Uhuru. When she found out that she could get paid for studying black holes, she went to graduate school in physics at MIT, and after getting her PhD there in 1981, she moved to California. She has been on the faculty at Sonoma State University for over 35 years, and chaired the Department of Physics and Astronomy for 15 years before stepping down in 2019. She is also the director and founder of SSUโ€™s EdEon STEM Learning Center, formerly known as the Education and Public Outreach group. EdEon is involved in programs that build rocket payloads and CubeSats, as well as developing and testing STEM curricula and other education products. EdEon also runs a robotic telescope north of campus that can be used over the internet by high school and college students nation-wide. On a personal note, she and her husband, who is also a physicist, live at the Little H-bar Ranch in Petaluma, California, where they are the servants to three horses, two miniature horses, two cats, seven chickens, a three-legged goat, one rabbit and one dog.


 

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