Tabor students and faculty just had the awe-inspiring experience of listening to a lecture by the 2017 Nobel Laureate physicist up close and personal right on campus. Dr. Rainer Weiss, of MIT, shared his work on detecting gravitational waves with two packed houses of students and faculty. He was kind and approachable, encouraged questions, and did his best to bring his heavenly topic down to earth.
As well known as he is for his leadership in groundbreaking discoveries about our universe, Weiss is also renowned for his love of speaking to students at the high school level. He, therefore, graciously accepted the invitation of Tabor’s Mathematics and Computer Science Department.
Jeanne Townsend, a staff member in Tabor’s IT Department and student of physics in college, summarized the hour-long talk as follows. “While numbers, formulas, and scientific theories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, evidently black holes are. Anything involving black holes gets the public’s attention. As Dr. Weiss explained, pop culture and comics have paved the way for people to feel ownership of black holes, which are among the objects that cause the gravitational waves Dr. Weiss and his colleagues detect. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, project that Dr. Weiss collaborated on has created a new method for observing the heavens. LIGO has recorded black holes merging and, more recently, neutron stars colliding. Both interactions involve objects with huge masses travelling near the speed of light, conditions necessary to create detectible gravitational waves. Using LIGO to help triangulate the location in space of cosmic mayhem provides scientists with another lens with which to view, study, and explore our universe.”
Dr. Weiss encouraged the audience by his example and his obvious passion and joy in his subject, to explore our curiosities, make mistakes as we pursue knowledge, and to continue to ask questions His inventions and accomplishments are legendary, but his basic message can resonate with all of us. A member of the Tabor math department, Matt Voci, said, “Dr. Weiss is simply humbled by attention that has been pointed in his direction by his most recent honor because he constantly professes that the success of the LIGO observatory has been the work of thousands of people.” Voci remarked that, “Dr. Weiss conveyed that greater than the individual findings was the collaborative that has been formed by some of the greatest minds in the field from all around the world, unified for a single goal.”
The highlight of his talk may have come following a question posed by Tommy Hu ’20. Cautiously, he asked, “What is the real-life application of your work.” While Dr. Weiss could have gone on a tangent about the hundreds of inventions that will have immediate ramifications in the fields of laser development and stabilization, medical or industrial usages, he instead responded passionately to the question with, “We do science, not to make better technology, rather, because it makes life more interesting.”
A recording of the talk can be found on www.taboracademy.org under news.