There has been much talk recently of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) yet very little of anything else (at least in the media). The LHC certainly made a major discovery as far as the physics community is concerned, since it found the God particle. However, this leads one to believe that perhaps all of the major discoveries to be made are going to happen here.
Further to the dismay of the science community, the U.S. has no plans for an accelerator that could challenge the European LHC. As if this isn't bad enough, budget constraints have pushed back the launch of the James Webb telescope.
If it seems like the U.S. is falling behind in the world of science, we are in more ways than one. Yet there is a ray of hope on the horizon.
There is at least one device coming online soon that could change the world of science - LIGO. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory will be able to observe something not directly seen by other telescopes - gravitational waves.
The whole idea dates back to Einstein's prediction of gravitational waves. You see, you can envision the universe as a tightly pulled sheet stitched together by both space and time. This sheet has come to be called space-time (space and time, as it turns out can not be taken as separate entities). When the big bang happened, ripples were sent down this space-time sheet (at least that is the prediction) in the form of gravitational waves. These waves should still be sloshing around and that is where LIGO comes in.
LIGO will use laser beams bouncing back and forth on mirrors in a device known as an interferometer. This device can determine if a laser beam has been disturbed, to high accuracy. If LIGO is able to measure this disturbance, it will be another landmark in science. (Of course, there is the possibility that Einstein was wrong but there has been indirect evidence building up for gravitational waves.)
LIGO is co-sponsered by MIT and Cal Tech and actually has three different observation stations. The reason for the three detectors is to be sure that LIGO actually saw a gravitational wave and not a hiccup in the system, if at least two of the detectors far away from each other pick it up that will be verification. LIGO is set to come online in 2014, just down the road from now.
So there is hope for the future of American science, even if the scientists don't see it that way.
Jeremie is a Clarkson University graduate student and Wilmington resident. Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.