Five minutes with… Brynley Pearlstone

Brynley Pearlstone is a PhD student in the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research. Last year, he shared his experiences of chasing gravitational waves with the ‘Chasing the Waves’ team, and also took part in Q&A sessions with hundreds of school children. Today he stopped for a chat with the GSF blog!

bryn

I am Brynley Pearlstone, and I am a Ph.D student, researching ways to analyse data from the LIGO experiment, in order to find very weak but longer lasting gravitational waves from rapidly rotating neutron stars.

2. How long have you been researching gravitational waves?

About 2 and a half years now

3. What’s the best bit about being a scientist?  And the worst bit?

The best bit about being a scientist? Well, there are a few. The people you meet, the hands you shake, and the scientists you work with are great people, often with closely shared interests, quick thinkers, and good chat. And you get to meet these people from all over the world as well!

The worst part is probably when you’re telling somebody else that you’re a research student, some of the responses are “Oh, so you’re still at school?” with a little laugh. That isn’t great.

4. How were you involved with ‘Chasing the Waves?’

When the team behind Chasing the Waves was getting going, I was asked to have a chat with them about some time that I had spent at one of the LIGO sites. I sat in front of an iPad as it recorded me, and chatted with some of the people involved.

5. What did you think of the show?

I really enjoyed the show! Some of the in-jokes were great, particularly the “Stock Response” skit. My experience of being at the site rang true in parts of how the show portrayed it.

6. Tell us your favourite science joke or fact.

how_many_people_did_you_lie_to

Five minutes with… Prof Jim Hough

Our new show, ‘Chasing the Waves‘, funded by the STFC, uses music and comedy to explore how Glasgow scientists contributed to one of the biggest discoveries of the century: the detection of gravitational waves.

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Prof Jim Hough

Professor Jim Hough has been at the heart of gravitational wave research for decades. He has also been at the heart of ‘Chasing the Waves‘, sharing his stories and expertise with the creative team to help develop the show. We grabbed five minutes for a chat  about his involvement.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jim Hough, experimental physicist. I work on suspensions, mirror coatings etc. for next generation gravitational wave detectors

2. How long have you been researching gravitational waves?

Since 1971

3. What’s the best bit about being a scientist?  And the worst bit?

Best bit – the thrill of solving problems

Worst bit – doing the admin

4. How were you involved with ‘Chasing the Waves?’

Wearing a wig and behaving like an idiot. You can watch Jim in our music video here.

5. What did you think of the show?

Excellent

6. Tell us your favourite science joke or fact.

The lion and the rabbit

Making Waves

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.

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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.