Keith Thorne, Engineer At LIGO, To Deliver Remoticon Keynote

It is my pleasure to announce that Keith Thorne has graciously agreed to deliver a keynote take at Hackaday Remoticon 2. Get your ticket now!

Keith is an astrophysicist and has worked on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) since 2008, literally looking for ripples in space-time that you know as gravitational waves. The effects of the phenomena are so subtle that detecting an event requires planet-scale sensors in the form of 4 km long interferometers placed in different parts of the United States whose readings can be compared against one another. A laser beam inside these interferometers bounces back and forth 300 times for a total travel distance of 1,200 km in which any interaction with gravitational waves will ever-so-slightly alter how the photons from the beam register.

The challenges of building, operating, and interpreting such a device are manifold. These interferometers are the highest precision devices ever devised, able to detect motion 1/10,000 of the diameter of a proton! To get there, the mirrors need to be cooled to 77 nano-Kelvins. Getting the most out of it is what Keith and the rest of the team specialize in. This has included things like hacking the Linux kernel to achieve a sufficient level of real-time digital control, and using “squeezed light” to improve detection sensitivity in frequencies where quantum mechanics is getting in the way. While the detectors were first run in 2015 & 2016, successfully observing three events, the work to better understand this phenomenon is ongoing and may include a third site in India, and a space-based detector in the future.

In getting to know Keith he mentioned that he is excited to speak to a conference packed with people who want to hear the gory technical details of this fantastic piece of hardware. I’m sure we’re all giddy to learn what he has to say. But if you’re someone who wants to work on a project like this, he tipped us off that there’s an active EE job posting for LIGO right now. Maybe you’ll end up doing the keynote at a future Hackaday conference.

Call for Proposals is Still Open!

We’re still on the hunt for great talks about hardware creation. True creativity is fed by a steady stream of inspiration. Be that inspiration by giving a talk about the kinds of things you’ve been working on!

13 thoughts on “Keith Thorne, Engineer At LIGO, To Deliver Remoticon Keynote

  1. Skimming down the front page, I read
    “…engineer at Lego…”
    …skip a couple paragraphs…
    …(something about precision interferometers)…

    Had to scroll up and read the title again!

  2. I’m a little surprised to see there’s an active EE job posting at LIGO. I applied for an EE position at LIGO Livingston just prior to when they announced the first detection of gravitational waves. I ended up receiving an email saying they had decided not to fill the position. I thought maybe they had accomplished their mission and were wrapping things up.

    I would love to work at a place like LIGO, but I know it’s futile to apply. I meet all the basic qualifications for the job and most of the preferred qualifications, too. However, I doubt Caltech would hire anyone who went to an undistinguished school like the University of Memphis. I like to imagine somewhere in a parallel universe, there’s a version of me who went to Caltech or MIT and is currently enjoying a rewarding engineering career, kind of like Howard Wolowitz. I’d happily settle for designing a space toilet. ;-)

      1. +10.

        I think this is my second comment in 7 years. Don’t sell yourself short. It costs nothing to try. I’ve never regretted my failures; each has been instructive. I have few regrets so far but they were all related to self doubt or inaction. Go for it. Anecdotally, I did grad school at a no name school and ended up at as a fellow at well known former farm town university in NorCal against the odds. The other fellows were all from well known schools. I still remember what it felt like to introduce myself last. Now it’s something to laugh about. Best wishes.

    1. There’s a lot of reasons jobs become available and unavailable, funding changes, people leave, new projects are started, old projects are finished. You should have a go at it.

    2. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

      Luck has a lot to say about where you end up.

      I agree with you that have a prestigious CV does open doors, being the right person at the right time and in the right place is an unbeatable combination that can’t be controlled. Whatever you do, don’t give in to despair. Keep on slogging away at it. If you want inspiration, just look up the wins and losses of Abraham Lincoln.

    3. According to my dad who worked on mirrors for the Palomar telescope, Caltech would love to underpay you for your work. That may have just been the professor running that project though :p

  3. In the New Earth book series by Mathew Mather he had LIGO detecting a pair of black holes rotating around one another, two years before the real LIGO detected anything – which happened to be a pair of black holes rotating around one another.

    But Mather’s black holes flew through the Solar System, causing major havoc. He consulted with several scientists and used Universe Sandbox to setup everything with the masses and trajectory of the black holes to achieve a result that wouldn’t end with Earth yanked out of the Solar System, plunged into the Sun, smashed into another one of the planets, or just ending up in an orbit inhospitable to life.

    Earth gets tossed around a bit and pummeled with a few asteroids, while Mercury and Venus go buh-bye into interstellar space. The other planets get highly disturbed, with Saturn’s orbit getting bent so severely that Earth flies through its rings and *almost* has a terminal collision with one of its moons.

    All it took was selecting the right time in the near-ish future, and setting the mass and trajectory of the black holes just right. Must have taken a huge number of iterations to come up with a scenario where Earth was pretty much the only object in the system not majorly affected.

  4. “detecting an event requires planet-scale sensors in the form of 4 km long interferometers placed in different parts of the United States”

    Why is that planet size if it is based in one country only?

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