Episode 6: Michael Turner discusses LIGO & the detection of gravitational waves

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Apr 5, 201652m
Episode 6: Michael Turner discusses LIGO & the detection of gravitational waves
Apr 5 '1652m
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Michael Turner is best known for having coined the term “dark energy” in 1998. A theoretical cosmologist at the University of Chicago, Turner has dedicated his career to researching the Big Bang, dark energy and dark matter. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis on gravitational waves—back in 1978—and nearly four decades later—had a bird’s eye view of their recent detection. Turner was assistant director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the development of LIGO, which stands for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. This large-scale physics experiment and observatory, which was led by researchers at MIT and CalTech, discovered, on September 15th, 2015, the existence of gravitational waves via a chirping noise signaling the merger of two black holes over a billion light-years away. The scientists announced their discovery on February 11th, 2016. In this episode, Turner interprets this momentous finding, and talks about some of the big player scientists who worked on LIGO. And some of the behind the scenes activities involved in a “big science” project such as LIGO. Talking with STEM-Talk host Dawn Kernagis, Turner also shares his early development as a scientist and an important mentorship that shaped his career. Turner has been a popular presence at IHMC as a guest lecturer. His IHMC talks have over 20,000 YouTube views. https://youtu.be/-rVBLwKuDXA He is also co-author, with Edward Kolb, of The Early Universe: 1:18: IHMC CEO Ken Ford explains what gravitational waves are. 4:29: Five-star reviews of STEM-Talk on iTunes are starting to roll in. Ken Ford reads one from ‘Bobalapoet’: “The individuals interviewed are articulate, knowledgeable and able to clearly convey information about their fields. The interviewers and the institute are to be congratulated for putting this series together for my and others’ enjoyment.” 6:18: Turner talks about his childhood interest in science. “I was always a curious kid,” he said. He tinkered with electronics and became a ham radio operator, talking to people all over the world. “I almost electrocuted myself several times.” 7:21: “I like to say that I went to best schools that money could buy, in the 1960s, which was public schools in California.” Turner describes various high school chemistry experiments and “creating UFOS over LA.” He loved math, physics, and chemistry. 8:58: Turner discovers that physics is his real passion, and “math was but a tool.” 9:05: Turner’s high school physics teacher took Turner and friends to Monday night lectures at CalTech. “It just opened up this world of stuff that was going on at the forefront of science,” adding that’s when he fell in love with what would become his undergraduate alma mater. 11:00: For his Ph.D., Turner went to Stanford on the advice of Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. 11:36: Turner went to the University of Chicago in 1978 as an Enrico Fermi fellow. Initially his plan was to return to California as soon as possible, but “I’ve been happily in Chicago ever since.” 12:09: David Schramm, an astrophysicist and Big Bang theory expert, brought Turner to Chicago and mentored him until Schramm’s tragic death from a plane crash in 1997. The two met at CalTech, in the gym, where Schramm was assistant wrestling coach. 14:45: “Dave curved the path of my career from astrophysics and gravitational waves to early universe cosmology.” 16:41: “[Dave’s] toughness and his enthusiasm for science are things that I take with me to this day.” 17:00: “[Dave] really changed the face of cosmology and astronomy at the University of Chicago.” 17:25: Commercial break: STEM-Talk is an educational service of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a not-for-profit research lab pioneering ground-breaking technologies aimed at leveraging human cognition, perception, locomotion and resilience.  17:58: Turner discusses his passion for bicycling.

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