Professor Martin Hendry

Report by John Galloway

On Tuesday the 25th of October, pupils from local secondary schools in North Lanarkshire, studying Physics at Higher level, attended a lecture at Our Lady’s High School from Martin Hendry, Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow.  Professor Hendry’s lecture consisted of information regarding Gravitational Waves, Dark Energy and The fundamentals of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Hendry’s efforts in Astrophysics and Cosmology have allowed him ,and the team at The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), to accomplished the great feat of helping confirm Einstein’s theory of Gravitation. In detecting evidence that Einstein’s theory is correct, they have further increased our understanding of the universe and the ways in which time, matter and space ,as we perceive them, operate. Professor Hendry’s efforts and enthusiasm in physics are sure to inspire a new generation of physicists who will eagerly further our knowledge of the universe.

The Lecture began with an introduction into the fundamentals of Einstein’s theory of  Relativity. Einstein’s theory gives light to the idea that the laws of physics are the same for stationary observers, and the speed of light in a vacuum is independent of the movement of observers. Hendry explained the ways in which Einstein’s theory allowed a perception of time and space to be created and the ways in which the universe ,as we know it, can be distorted by cataclysmic events;  The formation of a neutron stars, supernova explosions and the collisions of black holes. Professor Hendry continued his lecture by giving a brief account of dark energy and dark matter, and the effects of this undiscovered matter and energy in our universe. Dark Energy is theorised to be a form of energy which sort of opposes gravity and causes the universe to expand at an exponential rate. At this current moment, dark matter and dark energy are unexplained but with the recent discovery of gravitational waves it it’s thought that further discoveries in this perplexing field may be uncovered. This led Professor Hendry to his key talking point of the lecture; the discovery of Gravitational waves

Gravitational waves are distortions in the fabric of space and time given out during high energy events in our universe. During these high energy events, ‘ripples’ of gravitational waves are emitted and travel at the speed of light a little bit like dropping a pebble into a pond. Professor Hendry and the team at LIGO developed and improved the technology used to detect these miniscule distortions in space-time. By reducing uncertainty in the collected data and improving the sensitivity of the equipment used it led to the discovery of gravitational waves early this year. The discovery of these waves is characterised by a chirping sound which Professor Hendry so eloquently recreated. Hendry and the team at LIGO did what many Physicists thought was impossible, to prove Einstein’s theory. There are increasing detections of gravitational waves with more being discovered each year. Furthermore, Hendry discussed the further implications of Gravitational waves and the extent of how ground-breaking this discovery of gravitational waves are in the world of physics.

It is possible that the team at LIGO may be in the running for the Nobel Prize in Physics. On behalf of all the pupils who attended Professor Hendry’s lecture, we would like to thank him for his time and entertaining talk and to wish him and the Team at LIGO every success.

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