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The Hindu
The Hindu
Qudsia Gani

Third LIGO will put India on the research map

All of us have some sense of the limitless expanse of the Universe. When it is considered together with the flow of time, it is called spacetime – the fabric of the cosmos. This fabric bends around massive objects, much like a soft pillow dips down once we rest our head on it. The greater the mass of an object, the greater is the curvature or bending of spacetime around it.

If a massive object is in accelerated motion, it will generate ripples in the fabric, much like the ripples on the surface of a pond when a pebble is dropped into it. These ripples distort the spacetime fabric and are called gravitational waves. In the cosmos, gravitational waves are the outcome of far-flung cataclysmic events like powerful supernovae and the collision of black holes or neutron stars.

Studying gravitational waves can help us delve deep into the history of the Universe and help us understand why it is the way it is.

LIGO India

LIGO – an acronym for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory – is a colossal physics experiment designed to detect gravitational waves. The essential arrangement consists of two large interferometers, each about 4 km long, arranged in an ‘L’ shape. An interferometer is a device that causes two light waves to intersect each other, and studies the resulting interference pattern.

The L-shaped arrangement of interferometers effectively behaves like a high-precision antenna that detects gravitational waves, which are extremely faint.

There are currently two LIGO setups in the world – both in the U.S., in Louisiana and Washington. They detect and observe gravitational waves together. A third LIGO is set to come up in India and will operate in tandem with the two in the U.S. It will be built in the Hingoli district of Maharashtra, which is about 450 km east of Mumbai, at an estimated cost of ₹2,600 crore.

LIGO-India is scheduled to begin scientific runs from 2030, the estimated year of completion of its construction. It will be run by three premier institutes of India: the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology in Indore; the Institute for Plasma Research in Ahmedabad; and the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune – in collaboration with the LIGO Laboratory operated by the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The project will place India on the world map for advanced research on a topic of immense interest.


The experimental design of LIGO-India includes a multidisciplinary set-up and can thus offer cutting-edge research opportunities to young researchers with expertise in laser physics, optics, and computing, aside from general physics. The project is likely to be a great centre of learning, re-learning and excitement for the current generation of young physicists in India.

Science has done a lot to make human life sustainable and progressive through a variety of circumstances. It has helped ease large-scale work, improve access to medicines, food, and a better quality of life, and provided entertainment and leisure. This, however, does not mean every research outcome needs to have an application in industry or bear us instruments and gadgetry.

Today, science in practice has improved to the extent that it can both test and complement our conscience. As the Euclid space probe launched just last week also attests, scientists are now exploring questions about the fate of the Universe, how it started, and how it will end (or whether it started at all or will always exist). Our conscience plays an important role in guiding us through matters that are beyond our direct observation.

In the context of science, conscience is defined by the fact that thinking clearly is more important than thinking deep. We need to not compromise on the demands of reason and the guiding lights of fact at any point. Observation, interpretation, and all the steps in between should be well-connected by the proper logic, and there should be no missing links.

Also Read | Are science journalists scientists? 

Stay curious

It is a truism in science – even modern science, for all its complexity – that if you cannot explain something in simple terms, you have not understood it well enough. The course of thinking about and understanding a process should be replicated by a due course of demonstration. Every theory has to face the axe of the experiment.

The gravitational waves for which we erect observatories today are the outcomes of similar thoughts, rigour, and fidelity on the part of Albert Einstein and the mysterious, though now real, outcomes of his general theory of relativity.

We can appreciate such scientific endeavours only if we choose to stay curious. Curiosity is both essential and primary to great learning. Our generation should know to maintain its curiosity if it is to have its ‘eureka’ moments, in their scientific pursuits as well as in life. The mere possession of computers and some programmes with which to run tasks on them do not mean much without knowing how to put them to good use, without, that is, a clear conscience.

Dr. Qudsia Gani is an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, Government College for Women, Srinagar.

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