Interested in a PhD in physics? Please talk to us - we are always happy to show people around the group and answer any questions you might have about postgraduate studies. You can contact us using the details at the bottom of the page or talk to our members directly.
Areas of research
The work of the Institute for Gravitational Research is concentrated on the search for gravitational waves from astrophysical sources.
The main experimental areas of research are: precision novel interferometric techniques and the development of systems of ultra low mechanical loss for the suspensions of mirror test masses.
The group is also involved in the space-based LISA mission as well as data analysis activities within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
A prospective student could choose to work on one of the following topics:
(Note that these are suggested project topics rather than projects for which a funded Ph.D place is necessarily available and will evolve over time. Please contact the supervisor(s) concerned for details.)
Data analysis - Prof. G. Woan, Prof. M. Hendry and Dr. S. Heng
In particular novel methods for exploring gravitational wave data for possible signals from the world-wide network of gravitational wave interferometers. Now that first-generation interferometers are operating at design sensitivity, meaningful astrophysical interpretation of the data is crucial. We perform searches for gravitational waves from well modeled sources, such as pulsars, as well as less well modeled sources, such as core-collapse supernovae and neutron star mergers. Our work also extends to the use of Monte-Carlo methods to extract as much astrophysical information from any potential signals.
Materials research - Prof S. Rowan, Prof J. Hough, Dr G. Hammond, Dr Iain Martin and Dr Ian MacLaren.
Studies of the thermo-mechanical and electrical properties of materials such as ultra-pure sapphire and silicon for use as possible ultra-low noise mirror substrates, including investigations of novel properties at cryogenic temperatures and studies of optical coatings. The dissipative properties of these materials and their coatings will limit the sensitivity of future gravitational wave detectors and this research will be targeted at allowing future detectors to 'see' gravitational wave sources in a greater volume of the Universe. This research also has potential spin-offs with application in other areas of astronomical instrumentation such as e.g. the proposed European Extremely Large Telescope.
Interferometry - Prof K. Strain and Dr S. Hild
We are developing techniques to control devices under high laser power and the influence of quantum effects on measurements of macroscopic objects. A full-scale prototype interferometer is housed in the Institute, enabling the development of novel optical techniques, study of radiation pressure and quantum noise, and the direct measurement of thermal noise effects. These studies will help influence the evolution of possible next generation detectors, such as upgrades to LIGO and GEO 600.
Optical systems for space based GW detectors - Dr H. Ward
The ESA space-based eLISA detector, and its precursor mission, LISA Pathfinder, require high precision interferometry capable of withstanding the rigours of space. The IGR has developed a monolithic optical bench and specialised bonding techniques for LISA Pathfinder, and is currently constructing the flight model for that mission. A parallel research program is underway to investigate a number of interferometry issues for LISA and work is also in progress to extend the optical assembly techniques developed for Pathfinder for use in the eLISA mission.