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Emeritus Professor David Blair, Professor David McClelland, Professor Susan Scott and Professor Peter Veitch (OzGrav collaboration)

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) team are:

  • Emeritus Professor David Blair (University of Western Australia)
  • Professor David McClelland (Australian National University)
  • Professor Susan Scott (Australian National University)
  • Professor Peter Veitch (University of Adelaide)

They are internationally acclaimed for their critical contributions to the first direct detection of gravitational waves on Earth – a groundbreaking discovery in the world of physics.

The 2015 discovery registered gravitational-wave signals from the collision of two substantial black holes 1.3 billion years ago. This was made possible by the decades of pioneering work and innovation by the team, as part of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory Scientific Collaboration (LSC). 

The legacy of the team’s combined research excellence ensures that Australia is now front-and-centre in exploring this new window into the Universe.
 

Watch a video about their work

The OzGrav team talk about their research and contribution.

[Music plays and image shows the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prime Minister’s Prize For Science medallion and the text beneath:

[Images move through of Professor Susan Scott writing on a clear board, Emeritus Professor David Blair pointing at a beam splitter, and various views of Peter Veitch and David McClelland at work]

[Image changes to show Professor David McClelland talking to the camera and text appears: Professor David McClelland]

Professor David McClelland: Our team represents many Australian researchers and graduate students who have made an extraordinary contribution to the first detection of gravitational waves.

[Image changes to show a gravitational wave pattern on a computer screen and the camera zooms out and the image changes to show Professor Peter Veitch talking to the camera and text appears: Professor Peter Veitch]

Professor Peter Veitch: Gravitational waves have never been detected before. They’re a new type of signal that is being produced by the universe.

[Images move through to show Peter and a colleague looking at a worktable of mirrors and the camera pans in a clockwise direction, and then a gravitational wave pattern on a computer screen]

When we analyse those signals we can find out things we cannot discover any other way.

[Image changes to show Professor Susan Scott taking a Quantum Gravity book from a library shelf and looking at it and then the image changes to show Susan talking and text appears: Professor Susan Scott]

Professor Susan Scott: This is a story that took 100 years.

[Images move through of a close view of Susan talking to the camera, a room full of experimental equipment, and Susan talking to a young colleague working on a computer]

Albert Einstein introduced his Theory of General Relativity in 1915 and predicted the existence of gravitational waves from that theory.

[Images move through of a close view of Susan talking to the camera, Susan and a colleague in conversation, and a computer generated image of two black holes colliding]

After a century, we finally managed to directly detect those waves from the collision of two very big black holes.

[Image changes to show a view of two black holes colliding and merging into one giant black hole surrounded by millions of stars and then the image changes to show David Blair talking to the camera and text appears: Emeritus Professor David Blair]

Emeritus Professor David Blair: Once we thought that black holes probably existed.

[Images move through to show a LIGO beam splitter, a beam splitter diagram, and gravitational waves moving around with two points of light merging into a single point as lines move across the screen]

we started to develop technology that would be able to detect these immense explosions of gravitational energy that are created when black holes collide.

[Image changes to show Peter talking to the camera]

Professor Peter Veitch: Gravitational wave detectors use high-power laser beams.

[Images move through to show a row of mirrors in a gravitational wave detector, Peter wearing a pair of goggles, various mirrors on the workbench, and Peter talking to the camera]

Unfortunately, the mirrors in the detectors absorb some of the laser beams and they get hot, which distorts the laser beams, and makes the detector less sensitive.

[Images move through of a close view of the mirrors, and then a diagram of a beam splitter showing the distortions from the mirrors]

Our contribution was to develop technology that could measure these distortions, thereby allowing the system to remove them, and that improves the sensitivity and the stability of the detectors.

[Image changes to show David McClelland talking to the camera and the camera zooms in on David as he talks and then the image changes to show David and colleagues in conversation]

Professor David McClelland: We used Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity to calculate what the signal would look like that we’re trying to observe.

[Images move through to show close views of equipment, David McClelland and colleagues looking down at the mirrors on the work table, a diagram of black holes colliding and a measurer below]

That signal, for a detector based on Earth, would be something that moves mirrors a hundred times a second by an amount which is one million billion times smaller than a human hair.

[Images move through of David McClelland and colleagues looking at the mirrors on the work table again, and then a close view of David talking to the camera]

The precision measurement techniques we developed have many possible applications, including earthquake early warning, Earth observation from space, and navigation.

[Images move through of a painting of two hands almost touching with electricity sparking between two wires in front, and a painting of the “Oldest light in the universe” with two pinpoints of light rotating in front of it]

Professor Susan Scott: Ultimately we want to go back to almost the beginning of time with gravitational waves.

[Image shows the two pinpoints continuing to rotate and the image morphs to show gravitational waves moving around with the rotating pinpoints]

We hope to study how supernovae explode.

[Image changes to show a very bright light in a starry sky, and then the image changes to show a close view of a neutron star, and then the image changes to show Susan talking to the camera]

We want to probe the nature of the densest material in the universe inside neutron stars,

[Images move through to show Susan and a colleague in conversation, Susan and a colleague in conversation in a workroom, and then a computer generated image of two black holes rotating]

and we fully expect total surprises of phenomenon in the dark side of the universe that we currently have no knowledge of.

[Image changes to show Peter sitting at an office desk and talking to the camera]

Professor Peter Veitch: To be a great scientist often requires 99 per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration. You need to be resilient.

[Image changes to show a close view of Peter talking to the camera]

You should not give up. Keep going, and even if you make a mistake you should recognise that often you learn more by the mistake than by getting it right the first time.

[Image changes to show a close view of Susan talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a slightly further out view of Susan talking]

Professor Susan Scott: The pioneering work of our team over the last quarter of a century ensured that Australia played a leading role in the first direct detection of gravitational waves. Australia is now in a position to be a powerhouse in the emergent field of gravitational wave astronomy.

[Image changes to show David Blair sitting in a chair talking to the camera]

Emeritus Professor David Blair: It’s wonderful to receive the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

[Images move through of David Blair talking, Susan and a colleague, David McClelland and a student watching two metal balls spinning under a glass dome, and David McClelland smiling]

It’s a tribute to all of the students and all of the scientists who have participated in this amazing quest

[Images move through of Peter and a colleague wearing goggles and talking, Susan writing on a clear board, David Blair talking, and then David Blair smiling]

that has lasted for so long and finally been rewarded with the detection of gravitational waves.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science medallion and text beneath: 2020 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, Emeritus Professor David Blair, Professor Susan Scott, Professor David McClelland, Professor Peter Veitch]

 

See their acceptance speech

The OzGrav team accepted their prize at this year’s live streamed event.

[Image shows the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prime Minister’s Prize For Science medallion and text beneath:

[Image changes to show Emeritus Professor David Blair talking to the camera and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science medallion can be seen on the left and text beside: Emeritus Professor David Blair]

Emeritus Professor David Blair: Our team is absolutely delighted to be the recipients of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. On behalf of all of us, I want to thank the Prime Minister, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, and the Australian Government for their continuing recognition of the overwhelming importance of science to all of our lives. We’re also deeply indebted to the Australian Research Council who supported our research for many decades, and recently supported the founding of our wonderful Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery.

My special thanks go to my brilliant students and colleagues, who struggled with extraordinarily difficult research projects that allowed us to develop our exquisite measurement technologies. This includes enormous contributions from outstanding international students, especially those from China and Europe.

[Image continues to show Emeritus Professor David Blair talking to the camera]

The prize is a tribute to The University of Australia that educated three of us, and supported my research for more than 40 years, through the physics department, our superb technicians, workshops, and support staff. The West Australian government and innumerable people interested in educating future generations, enabled us to create our Gingin research facility, the Gravity Discovery Centre, and the Einstein-First Project, that has enabled our story of discovery to be told to young people.

We didn’t do this on our own. My deepest thanks must go to our international collaborators, especially those in the LIGO project, who embraced our participation in this wonderful quest. Finally, but most important of all, I thank my family who have participated in the quest to discover gravitational waves, and tolerated me for so many years. Thank you.

[Image changes to show Professor David McClelland talking to the camera and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science medallion can be seen on the left and text appears beside: Professor David McClelland]

Professor David McClelland: I am truly honoured and humbled to receive the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. I thank the Australian Research Council and The Australian National University for the great support it has given me over 30 years. I express my deep gratitude to my early ANU mentors, Hans Bachorr and John Sandeman, and current colleagues, Dan Shaddock and Jong Chow.

I’ve had the privilege to lead a great team at the ANU of researchers and graduate students, many who have made significant contributions. They are all worthy recipients. But I particularly acknowledge Dr Bram Slagmolen who has been with me for 20 years, and Dr Robert Ward who I’ve worked with for eight years. Their contributions have been central. Finally, I thank my wonderful wife, Rachel, and my beautiful children and grandchildren. You kept my life balanced and grounded. I am truly, truly a fortunate person.

[Image changes to show Professor Susan Scott talking to the camera and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science medallion can be seen on the left and text appears beside: Professor Susan Scott]

Professor Susan Scott: I am honoured, humbled, and incredibly thrilled to be a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. I feel like I’ve been on an absolutely epic journey for three decades, with general relativity theory, black holes, and gravitational waves. The detection of gravitational waves in 2015 was a pinnacle of my career.

My heartfelt thanks go to my family, with a special mention of my daughters, my friends, my colleagues, my research group members past and present, and The Australian National University, for their incredible support throughout my journey so far. My hope is that I can inspire young people, and especially young women, that they can successfully pursue exciting and valuable careers in science. We need you.

[Image changes to show Professor Peter Veitch talking to the camera and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science medallion can be seen on the left and text appears beside: Professor Peter Veitch]

Professor Peter Veitch: I am immensely honoured to be awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. The detection of gravitational waves was a huge effort and I should like to thank many people. My mentors, Professor Jim Hough, and Professor Jesper Munch, who showed me how to be a good scientist. Professor Munch started the Optics Group at The University of Adelaide in the early 1990s and has been a key contributor to this research until his recent retirement. My colleagues at The University of Adelaide, particularly those in the optics and OzGrav research groups, and the graduate students, who have allowed me to participate in their successes. Finally, my family whose love and support has allowed me to realise my dream.

In closing, we should like to thank once again the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology for this award. It represents and celebrates not just Australia’s key role in the direct detection of gravitational waves, but the groundwork required to make Australia a powerhouse in exploiting the gravitational wave window to the universe.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science medallion and text beneath: 2020 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, Emeritus Professor David Blair, Professor Susan Scott, Professor David McClelland, Professor Peter Veitch]