Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of spacetime, in 1915, but it was only this week — 100 years later — that scientists at MIT and Caltech were able to announce that they’d proved Einstein right. MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow Sasha Chapman was on the story for The Atlantic magazine, co-producing “What Gravitational Waves Sound Like” with MIT physicist and professor Allan Adams.
Definitive proof of these exceedingly faint gravitational waves has proved elusive for decades, but researchers at the jointly operated Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) — actually a complex of two observatories in Washington and Louisiana and research centers at Caltech and MIT — managed to capture a promising signal last fall. It took months of analysis to be certain, but by early this year, it had become clear that solid evidence was in hand.
Chapman, meanwhile — a ‘2016 KSJ Fellow — got wind of the finding while taking a multimedia documentary workshop in MIT’s Graduate Writing program, where Adams was a fellow student. Together, they headed over to speak with MIT astrophysicist and LIGO team member Scott Hughes. Hughes agreed to discuss the gravitational waves detection with Adams and Chapman on the condition that they not share the assignment until the official announcement was made.
“Gravity is a weak force,” Hughes told the pair. “Measuring these things is bloody hard.”
So is getting published in The Atlantic, so KSJ congratulates Chapman for her enterprising journalism!