The scientists imagining the impossible

St Peter's School

The scientists imagining the impossible

Professor Martin Hendry at St Peter's

On Friday 15th June, Martin Hendry MBE, who is Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow, and currently also Head of School, visited St Peter’s and delivered a lecture as part of the York Festival of Ideas. In 2015, he was awarded the MBE for his services to the public understanding of science, and it was a great privilege to have him here, engaging with the public in York.

Professor Hendry is a senior member of the LIGO collaboration, who have been working on the detection of gravitational waves for many years, and since 2015 have made some amazing discoveries about the universe. Professor Hendry and other scientists involved in this work years ago were truly ‘Imagining the Impossible’ when they dreamt of detecting the tiny effects of gravity, as predicted by Albert Einstein one hundred years ago. This particular field of Astronomy, therefore, really fitted in well with the 2018 Festival of Ideas in York.

Professor Hendry gave a really engaging talk that explained what gravitational waves are, including a performance of the gravitational wave dance. He explained how scientists are able to detect the incredibly tiny effects of these waves from great distances in space and also now establish where the waves are coming from. He included the whole audience in a demonstration the effect of noise on signals from space, which was certainly a first for the science lecture series at St Peter’s. A fun fact for the evening was that Gravitational Waves, when converted into sound, sound like chirping Guineapigs.

Martin went on to describe how the work he had been involved in helped to ‘keep the noise down’ in the detectors allowing scientists to detect some amazing events in space. He explained the story of the detection of colliding Black-Holes and Neutron-Stars, which has been unravelling since the middle of 2015. He really filled in a lot of the gaps in the information as reported by mainstream media, to a very astute audience.

Questions at the end of the lecture delved even deeper into the fantastic discoveries of the LIGO and VIRGO collaborations. The discussions at the end really showed how the evening had fired the imaginations of those who came along.

Many thanks to our Head of Science Outreach, Mr Andy Parr, for this report.