International Engineering Ambassadors
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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Space, Time and Engineering By Hemanshi Galaiya

On Thursday the 11th of February 2016, the world was taken aback – 101 years back; to be precise. In 1915 Albert Einstein proposed the theory of General Relativity – and stirred the biggest ‘controversy’ in the scientific community of his time. He suggested that the universe consists of space and time which are interwoven and dynamic, able to stretch, shrink and jiggle; contrary to what the world had accepted for nearly 200 years when Newton had laid out the framework of the universe as static and fixed.

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Einstein claimed that matter and energy distort the geometry of the universe. Just like the way a heavy object could cause a dimple to arise when placed on a sheet of fabric – producing an effect we call GRAVITY.

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Now, if two very heavy objects – and by heavy I mean black holes and neutron stars, not obese teenagers and large built wrestlers  were to orbit around each other (like a pair of twin star systems) and therefore accelerate towards each other, their ultimate  fusion would result in an enormous amount of energy being rapidly released. This energy is what propagates outwards into the matrix of space and time as what we now call GRAVITATIONAL WAVES. According to the equations physicists have settled on, gravitational waves would compress space in one direction and stretch it in another as they traveled outward.

A team of scientists based in Washington State and Louisiana called LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) announced that they had recorded the sound of two black holes colliding. Thereby, providing evidence to the the last set of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Honestly, was there ever anything that this man said that would someday not come true?

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This discovery rapidly became the talk of the world, not just the town, and is being called ‘the scientific highlight of the century’. All of this ‘sounds’ reasonable - right? I mean, of course, where there is a collision there will be a ‘thud’. Yet, here is the catch - the two black holes are a billion light-years away from us so how loud could the ‘thud’ have been that we ‘heard’ it on earth? Also, we all know that sound being a longitudinal wave does not propagate through a vacuum. Now, the question remains – HOW?

The answer is simple… taking engineering to the next level.

The science behind all of this was published in a paper with over a 1000 authors – some team I must say; I am sure they are glad the alphabetical order is widely accepted or I would be worried as to how they would decide the order of citing the authors. The LIGO team consisted of engineers and scientists from all over the world but what gives me great pride as a student at UoS is that some of the members belonged to our University – and you can view this as front page news for now on the University website.

I know all of you may be immensely eager as young engineers to know some neat details. Yet, I will need some time to write the next series of this article. So, hold your breaths – or don’t because both space and time are now at the comprehension of mankind and who knows how far this discovery can take us.

Until next ‘time’,
Hemanshi Galaiya

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