TITLE: Computing Everywhere: Detecting Gravitational Waves AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 12, 2016 3:34 PM DESC: ----- BODY:
a linearly-polarized gravitational wave
a linearly-polarized gravitational wave
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 US)
This week the world is excitedly digesting news that the interferometer at LIGO has detected gravitational waves being emitted by the merger of two black holes. Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein one hundred years ago in his theory of General Relativity. Over the course of the last century, physicists have amassed plenty of indirect evidence that such waves exist, but this is the first time they have detected them directly. The physics world is understandably quite excited by this discovery. We all should be! This is another amazing moment in science: Build a model. Make a falsifiable prediction. Wait for 100 years to have the prediction confirmed. Wow. We in computer science can be excited, too, for the role that computation played in the discovery. As physicist Sabine Hossenfelder writes in her explanation of the gravitational wave story:
Interestingly, even though it was long known that black hole mergers would emit gravitational waves, it wasn't until computing power had increased sufficiently that precise predictions became possible. ... General Relativity, though often praised for its beauty, does leave you with one nasty set of equations that in most cases cannot be solved analytically and computer simulations become necessary.
As with so many cool advances in the world these days, whether in the sciences or the social sciences, computational modeling and simulation were instrumental in helping to confirm the existence of Einstein's gravitational waves. So, fellow computer scientists, celebrate a little. Then, help a young person you know to see why they might want to study CS, alone or in combination with some other discipline. Computing is one of the fundamental tools we need these days in order to contribute to the great tableau of human knowledge. Even Einstein can use a little computational help now and then. -----