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Gravity Waves: China Joins the Quest

Gravity Waves: China Joins the Quest

- Contributed by Elena Giorgi

Earlier this year, Caltech LIGO was honored to host two scientists visiting the laboratory from China. Scientists Keyun Tang, from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and Yun Yong Wang paid a fruitful visit to the Pasadena campus, where they met and conferred with LIGO experts Barry Barish (the Laboratory's Director), Gary Sanders (Deputy Director), Riccardo De Salvo and Ren Yuan Zhu (both Caltech senior research scientists). This was the first of many visits that Tang and Wang have planned, both to LIGO as well as other members of the international gravitational-wave community, to present their ambitious project to build a Chinese GW detection interferometer, and to seek technical cooperation and scientific support for it.

CEGO meets LIGO.

The proposal comes after a very positive year for LIGO and its partners, Allegro, Auriga and GEO, all of whom collaborated with LIGO in providing independent coincident signals during the recent Third Science Run. Still greater successes are anticipated for the years to come: the Italian/French Virgo instrument is expected to start gathering data within the year, and LIGO, already operating within a factor-two of its design sensitivity, is gearing up for the proposed Advanced LIGO upgrade which will endow the detectors with a factor-ten increase in sensitivity. Further, the Japanese GW community continues improvements on its TAMA interferometer, and is moving ahead with the proposed LCGT cryogenic project in an underground facility.

Tang, Wang and their team of national supporters--which already counts ten different institutions, six academics, more than forty senior scientists, and a much larger number of postdoctoral fellows and junior researchers--hope to jump into this global picture with a brand new underground facility which they have already baptized CEGO, for the China Einstein Gravitational wave Observatory. After submitting a letter of intent to the Chinese National Science Development Plan at the end of last year, the group obtained an official agreement from the Chinese Government; the next move will be to develop an interim proposal for the project which, backed up by the international GW community, will be presented in the next few months to the Chinese Science Ministry.

Lunch at Caltech.

Tang opened his presentation at Caltech by illustrating the deep roots of China's interest in the structure of the Universe. Back in the third century B.C., the Chinese philosopher Qun Yuan was already posing questions that are still relevant in our present time, and some of which still remain unanswered. Centuries before Albert Einstein had even been born, the Chinese used to call the Universe "Yu Zhou." Yu in English means "space" and Zhou means "time." It's as though they already had a hunch on General Relativity: for them the Universe was "Space-Time."

Tang's presentation aimed at elaborating the first steps of CEGO and its ambitious plans. By this December an initial international design committee will be fully working, and by the end of next year the final proposal to the Chinese government should be completed.

Once the main facility is dug in, at a site yet to be decided, the CEGO group will open it to external contributions: "Our main goal," Tang explains, "is to build an underground facility capable of hosting multiple interferometers. Initially these instruments may be based on the design of Advanced LIGO and only later--maybe with a one or two year delay--would we build our own, low frequency, gravitational-wave detector."

A game of Go!

As expected, the Chinese project has gathered quite an enthusiastic response from LIGO and the rest of the GW community. Tang and Wang departed the Caltech campus just in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year back in their country: they returned home bringing with them not only exciting news, but also quite a set of "New Year's resolutions," as their ongoing quest for international support will continue throughout the remainder of this year.

Elena Giorgi, a member of the Italian Scientific Journalist Union UGIS, is currently a freelance science writer living in Pasadena, California. She is a math teacher as well as an author of science books designed for children. Her email address is

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