A new dawn for space discovery
Theoretical physicist Professor Susan Scott was part of a global effort that detected, for the first time, ripples in space and time, known as gravitational waves. The discovery came from the collision of two black holes, 100 years after the existence of gravitational waves was predicted by Albert Einstein. This triumph of physics has led to a new age of space discovery, which will allow scientists to unlock many secrets of the Universe.
The three founders of the project, from the United States, won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for the ground-breaking work on behalf of the international team. ANU played a key role in the project.
In addition to leading the General Relativity Theory and Data Analysis Group at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, Professor Scott is a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery. She recounts a typical day in which the search for new things that go boom in space continues.
Harp scales ringtone alarm goes off and I awaken to a dark, sub-zero Canberra Winter morning.
Check online alerts for any overnight detections of ripples in the space-time fabric coming from violent collisions in the Universe. Could it be two stars or black holes crashing into each other in a galaxy far, far away or something more exotic that we’ve never detected before?
De-ice car and drive to work, listening to my favourite tunes and hoping to snag a car park somewhere on campus.
Give a lecture in my new third-year physics course on General Relativity. Joy! Albert Einstein’s seminal work in this field explains that the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time. We’re constantly learning new things – it’s an exciting time to be a scientist in a new dawn for space discovery!
Quick walk to Little Pickle café for a takeaway large, skimmed latte – just reward for keeping the next generation of scientists engaged in the wonders of the Universe.
Meet a former student to research singularities in space, where huge masses are packed into infinitesimally small areas and where space and time, as we know them, go to die. This part of the day is my time.
Feeling a bit peckish after thinking about hungry black holes all morning. Brisk walk to the Co-op for a hearty organic, vegan lunch.
Attend research meeting to discuss the best ways to detect the densest stars in the Universe, known as neutron stars, spinning rapidly in space. We’re hoping to find neutron stars with millimetre-size ‘mountains’
on their surface.
Lead a videoconference with a group of Australia’s leading experts in the field to plan professional development opportunities for early career researchers.
Check emails and respond to issues that have popped up in the past 24 hours.
Leave work and walk up Mt Taylor before the winter sun sets over Canberra.
Relax and read my science feed on Twitter (perhaps tweet something profound) and check in with my two daughters. Any words of wisdom needed today?
Plan some details for my forthcoming adventure to the salt flats of Bolivia. Having been to Antarctica, the Arctic and other places off the beaten track, I can’t wait for another wild adventure.
Dinner out to catch up with fellow Canberrans from last year’s Homeward Bound trip to Antarctica, as part of an international leadership program for female scientists. How are we going as individuals? How are female scientists faring, generally? Are we on track to save the planet?
Go home and check online alerts for any new detections of big collisions in space. Stand ready to work with the ANU SkyMapper Telescope team to locate a fireball in the night sky from stars crashing or perhaps a black hole eating a star. Will the heavens stay cloud-free tonight?
Unwind with an episode of Versailles on SBS On Demand. Love the drama, splendour and intrigue of that period of the French court.
Time to sleep and make a wish upon a star for ripples in space and time from a cataclysmic event in the Universe, the likes of which the world has never seen before.