Prof Martin Hendry has been a major contributor to Glasgow Science Festival since its inception 10 years ago. As in previous years, he’ll be sharing his passion for physics and astronomy with the public through some fantastic free events.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
I am Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow, where I am also Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy. I’m a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a global network of more than 1000 scientists who in February 2016 reported the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves – a discovery that finally confirmed the predictions of Albert Einstein made 100 years ago and opened an entirely new “dark” window on the cosmos. Here’s a photo of me at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC, in April 2016 where a certain visitor to our LIGO exhibit said “good job”. (I’m the one on the right, by the way!)
2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?
Well, I’ve been a strong supporter of the Science Festival ever since it began, but this year I’ll be involved in various events to celebrate our first ever direct detection of gravitational waves – which was a huge global news story, and a particularly big story for Glasgow University given our key role in the discovery. Moments like this don’t come along very often and it’s been amazing to be part of the enormous “wave” of publicity! Just recently the entire collaboration was honoured with the award of the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (https://breakthroughprize.org/News/32) so it seems clear that the world has been really captivated by this story – and who wouldn’t be captivated by an everyday tale of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light years away!
3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?
It took me a while to get one, but now I couldn’t live without my smart phone! And it’s amazing to think that its built in GPS system relies on Albert Einstein’s theory too: according to relativity time runs a tiny bit faster at the altitude of the GPS satellites because gravity is weaker up there. Without correcting for this, my GPS would get me lost PDQ…Just another example of where fundamental physics underpins our everyday lives.
4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10th birthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?
Probably a nice brunch followed by a trip to the cinema. In 2014 I got to see “Interstellar” on my birthday, which was a real treat!
5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.
I’ll leave the jokes to others and go with an amazing fact.
The gravitational wave event GW150914 that we detected last September (and announced in February 2016) was the merger of two massive black holes more than a billion light years away. As they merged together they released about 50 times as much power, in the form of gravitational waves, as the light power released by all the stars in all the galaxies in the entire observable universe.
Listen to Martin and other LIGO scientists at ‘Making Waves: Listening to Einstein’s Universe’ on 10 June from 18:00-20:00. FREE. Book tickets online. You can also meet black hole hunters at Science Sunday on 19 June, details here.