This year’s prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science has been awarded to a team of Australian physicists for their contribution to a stellar, reality-bending discovery.

Emeritus professor David Blair and professors Susan Scott, David McClellan and Peter Veitch from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) were recognised for their role in the first direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015.

The discovery was a result of an astronomical effort by more than 1,000 scientists. It came about a century after Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves, in 1916, a year after he published his theory of general relativity.

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Gravitational waves are distortions in the fabric of space-time that spread outwards from a source at the speed of light. They can be likened to the ripples that emanate when a stone is dropped in water.

In 1997, Blair, McClelland, Scott and Veitch (members of the then new Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational-wave Astronomy) joined the US-based LIGO Scientific Collaboration. This project was focused squarely on the direct detection of gravitational waves and the myriad applications of such a discovery.

Everything had to be about a thousand times better, including the shapes of the mirrors, the frequency of the lasers, the acoustic wringing of the mirrors and the vibration isolation. […] This is a story that is 100 years in the making, since Einstein introduced his theory of general relativity in 1915.

The LIGO collaboration’s goal was eventually achieved in 2015, with the detection of a signal caused by two black holes that had collided about 1.3 billion years ago. In 2017 gravitational waves were detected again, this time as a result of two neutron stars crashing into each other.

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This observation confirmed neutron stars as the source of previously observed, but unexplained, high-energy gamma ray bursts. Neutron star collisions are the second-most powerful event known to occur in the universe, following black hole mergers.

Insights gleaned from detection of gravitational waves continue to pave a path for all researchers wanting to wade further into the cosmos with their work. It’s currently aiding efforts to understand what happened in the moments directly after the Big Bang.

Bringing the spotlight back to Earth, University of Sydney chemistry professor Thomas Maschmeyer was awarded the Prize for Innovation, for his work on two technologies helping advance Australia’s capacity to solve sustainability issues.

Both have vast implications for how we recycle commercial waste and how we can boost the effectiveness of renewable energy storage in harsher environments.

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Mark Dawson is program head of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s Translational Haematology Program, group leader of the Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory and is also a consultant haematologist. Supplied

On the health side, professor Mark Dawson of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre was acknowledged with the Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Dawson has contributed greatly to the field of epigenetics — which looks at how environmental factors can influence our genes — and its regulation in human health and disease.

Teacher Darren Hamley worked with his students to construct Australia’s first fully-licenced, zero-emission solar powered car. It drove across the Nullarbor Plain twice. (Image: Supplied)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Source: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2020/10/top-2020-science-prize-goes-to-aussie-physicists-who-helped-detect-distortions-in-space-time/

Gravitational wave, Australia, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Gravity

World news – US – Top 2020 Science Prize Goes to Aussie Physicists Who Helped Detect Distortions in Space-Time

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