If you have heard of the monumental discovery of gravitational waves that were made by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational – Wave Observatory (LIGO) which is a significant scientific advance then you would certainly know that a Pakistani born scientist Dr. Nergis Mavalvala is part of the team which made this discovery.
She is a professor of Physics at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology and was born in Karachi and immigrated to the US in her teens. After her B. A. in Physics and Astronomy from Wellesley College in 1990, she received her Ph. d. in Physics from MIT in 1997. She then was a research scientist at Caltech and later joined the Physics faculty at MIT in 2002.
Research on Gravitational waves was part of her research in graduate school at MIT where she is an associate department head of Physics and credits her success to her mentors who helped her reach where she is at present and mentioned specially her chemistry teacher in Pakistan who allowed her to play with reagents in lab after school.
If you’re unaware of the details, here’s the gist. Scientists, Nergis among them, have observed the warping of space-time generated by two black holes merging more than a billion light-years from Earth. It’s a massive confirmation of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and gives us a whole new way of looking at the universe.
Astronomy, before this landmark discovery, relied on light for observations whether it was UV, infrared or any other frequency. With gravitational waves, we now have an entirely different way of observing the universe.
Here’s what a LIGO scientist on Reddit had to say about the importance of these findings, ‘This discovery has ushered in an awesome new era of astronomy. Before we started detecting gravitational waves, looking out at the universe was like watching an orchestra without any sound. As our detectors start making regular observations of this stuff, it will be like turning on our ears to the symphony of the cosmos!’.
Prof Karsten Danzmann, from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, told the BBC:
There is a Nobel Prize in it – there is no doubt.
It is the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves; it’s the first ever direct detection of black holes and it is a confirmation of General Relativity because the property of these black holes agrees exactly with what Einstein predicted almost exactly 100 years ago.
Will a Pakistani be among the team that receives a Nobel prize for the detection of gravitational waves? Only time will tell. Till then, it’s another feather in the cap for Pakistan and Dr. Nergis Mavalvala, to whom we wish our most heartfelt congratulations. Keep making our country proud!