The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is perhaps the most sensitive measuring instrument on Earth, owning the ability to detect a change less than a ten-thousandth the charge diameter of a proton over its 4km measuring space. That’s like measuring the distance to a nearby star, say 4 light years away (forty thousand million million metres), with an accuracy smaller than the width of a human hair.
The LIGO was built to test a fundamental component of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity: the existence of gravitational waves. Nearly 60 years after the first LIGO prototype, these ripples in the curvature of space-time have since been detected, proving Einstein right once again and earning three US scientists the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics. The detection of gravitational waves has been regarded as fundamental, opening up the Universe to completely new investigations.
The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, also given to three US scientists, was awarded for ‘unravelling how our body tells the time’ – i.e. the way in which our body is directly in sync with the time of day (circadian rhythm), and how playing around with your daily patterns could be harmful. This fascinating research gives insight into the types of behaviours humans should align to throughout different parts of the day.
Natural Sciences (P) students should look at why gravitational waves are a fundamental outcome of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and how they occur. Natural Sciences (B) students should look at the circadian rhythm: in particular how hormone levels and the metabolism vary with time, and the PER protein.