News & Highlights
Gravitational Waves Events
October 13, 2017
I am pleased to let you know about three special, late-breaking news events that will take place on campus this coming Monday and Tuesday.

FIRST, On Monday, October 16th at 09:00 CDT, the National Science Foundation will host a press briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., bringing together scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo collaborations, as well as representatives from some 70 observatories. This will be live-streamed and we will set up a live viewing with some of the involved University of Chicago scientists in the lobby of ERC, as well as in room 201 of the Physics Research Center.

The press briefing will begin with an overview of new findings from LIGO, Virgo and partners that span the globe, followed by details from telescopes that work with the LIGO and Virgo collaborations to study extreme events in the cosmos.

The discovery of gravitational-waves by LIGO opened a new window to the Universe and involved several UChicago scientists. This year's Nobel Prize in Physics recognized three scientists for their contributions to the LIGO detector and the first observation of gravitational waves.

SECOND, there will be a special, more technical colloquium on the topic Monday, October 16th at 4:00 p.m. CDT in ERC 161, featuring University scientists Daniel Holz and Joshua Frieman, followed by discussion and comments by Holz, Frieman, Hubble Fellow Dan Scolnic, University Professor Wendy Freedman, and students and postdocs involved in the new findings. Following the discussion there will be a reception in the atrium.

THIRD, there will be an event on Tuesday, October 17th from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. in Kersten Physics Teaching Center (KPTC 120), consisting of about 5 short presentations by graduate students and postdocs and a Q&A/discussion. This will be geared more to the general public and university undergraduates.

I encourage you to join us for any of these special gatherings.

Rocky Kolb,
Dean of the Physical Sciences
The University of Chicago

Eclipse reflects sun's historic power
August 16, 2017
Michael Turner, KICP director
Eclipses have fascinated people since the earliest days of recorded history.

These rare astronomical events have helped explain the world around us -- from ancient Mesopotamia, where they were believed to foretell the deaths of kings, all the way to the 20th century, when they helped prove Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Such interest hasn't dimmed. People across the United States will have an opportunity on Aug. 21 to witness the first total solar eclipse from coast to coast in 99 years. UChicago faculty and students are among the hordes of enthusiasts traveling across the country toward the area of "totality," the 70-mile-wide stripe stretching from Oregon to South Carolina in which the moon will fully block the sun.

Ahead of this historic event, UChicago News asked scholars in fields ranging from theoretical cosmology to Islamic studies to discuss eclipses and their power.

The eclipse that proved Einstein was right
Michael Turner, Bruce V. & Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Physics

"Astronomers have learned a lot from eclipses, including one in 1919 that proved Einstein was right.

At the time, only a handful of people were aware of general relativity; Sir Arthur Eddington was one of them. He led an eclipse expedition into the Atlantic to find out whether gravity would bend starlight, as predicted by general relativity. What you want to do is look at stars very close to the sun, and see whether the light coming toward us is bent by the sun's gravity. With the moon blocking the sun, you can get that measurement, and it was exactly what Einstein predicted. The scientific community was agog. It instantly put general relativity on the map, and made Einstein a rockstar.

We're still learning things from eclipses. One thing people will study during this event is the corona of the sun, which is the glowing aura of gases that surrounds the sun. There are still things we don't understand about it -- such as exactly why it actually burns hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

A few years from now, NASA will launch a probe named after UChicago's own Eugene Parker that will explore the sun's corona -- closer than any probe has ever come to the sun."Learn more >>

Tiny scientists mobilized to study solar eclipse
July 26, 2017
Jason Henning (left), a post-doctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, talks about eclipses with children Tuesday at the Bright Horizons at Lakeview, a Chicago pre-school on Lincoln Avenue. Credit: Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times
Jason Henning is a post-doctorate fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. He's been to the South Pole three times, working on the university's 10-meter telescope there.

On Tuesday morning, he found himself advancing science in a place it doesn't frequently go: sitting on a too small chair in a basement classroom with the lights dimmed.

"Who's ready for an eclipse?" he asked a group of 4- and 5-year-olds sitting around a table at Bright Horizons at Lakeview, a preschool.

The youngsters didn't exactly squeal "Yes!" in unison, but they at least cast their attention in his general direction. Henning proceeded, using a small model Earth, moon and, as a light source, a lamp with a dinosaur base.

"Does anybody know how you make night and day?" asked Henning. "Does anybody remember?"Learn more >>

Space Explorers Program Evaluation and Experiments Featured at the 2017 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Meeting Los Angeles, CA
June 14, 2017
Randall H. Landsberg presented "Space Explorers: 25 Years of Inner-city Students Out of School Time Explorations" as part of the "mission possible" thread at the NSTA national conference. The talk included data on how students in the program are out preforming their peers and exemplar, hands-on, inquiry based experiments. The experiments both involved measurements but in very different realms: the size of the universe and the response rates of rods compared to cones in the human eye.


Space Explorers Compared to Chicago Public Schools.


Undergraduate First-Year STEM Majors National Data Comparison.

Presentation Abstract:
Since 1991 Space Explorers has offered first generation, low income inner-city students and university astrophysics researchers the opportunity to explore together (with over one hundred contact hours a year). An external evaluation probed the impacts of this program on the hundreds of students and instructors involved. We will examine the evaluation findings, which map well to the recent NRC study on out of school time programs. We will also explore some of our favorite lab activities, hear about taking students to Yerkes Observatory for residential science institutes, and discuss best practices for university and community based organization partnerships. Take home new ideas for student labs and partnerships.


Space Explorers Careers
(respondent 4 years past high school graduation n~100).

The Event Horizon Telescope's historic quest
April 13, 2017
The South Pole Telescope
This week the South Pole Telescope joined a global network of telescopes to take observations which aim to capture the highest-resolution image ever taken of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Read more:

Deflategate: Cold Wet Footballs, Ideal Gas Laws and Accusations of Cheating
February 8, 2017
Just in time for Super Bowl LI, students in the Space Explorers Program examined the physics and media frenzy of Deflategate. During the 2015 AFC championship game, NFL officials discovered that the pressure in several footballs used by the New England Patriots had decreased below permissible levels. This sparked a national controversy known as "Deflategate". The NFL (as well as many enemies the four-time Super Bowl champions Patriots had made in the football world) argued that the pressure drop could only be caused by cheating, especially because Tom Brady favors underinflated balls. (note: each team controls 12 footballs used when they are on offense mandated to be between 12.5 and 13.5 psi ). Patriots' fans argued that the drop was caused either by well known laws of physics, or by an elaborate NFL conspiracy.

Twenty-eight (28) high school students in KICP's Space Explorers program put these arguments to the test. Over the course of two weeks, students critically evaluated over a dozen arguments made by both sides, ranging from court documents, to college lectures, to tweets. Despite the strong opinions, contradictory claims, and often factually incorrect information found in these arguments, the Space Explorers managed to identify the critical questions that needed to be resolved to determine if Deflategate could be caused by purely innocuous physics and designed an experiment to address them. Their experiment revolved around measuring the effect that wetness had on the rate at which cold footballs warm up and increase in pressure.

To date their results are inconclusive. One trial found nothing suspicious about the pressure drop, and a second could not explain the low pressures in the Patriots' footballs. The Space Explorers themselves are split down the middle about how to interpret their results and will debate the best way to resolve this difference at the pre-Super Bowl Saturday class.

On MLK Day King College Prep Cosmology Club Explores Dark Matter
January 16, 2017
On Martin Luther King Day, 2017, students from the Cosmology Club at Dr. Martin Luther King Prep High School will visit KICP to learn about current dark matter research and tour the lab facilities. The instructor of the club, Nora Wengerski, has been working with KICP Professor Luca Grandi and his group for several months, including a week-long research experience in the summer of 2016 and developing the curriculum for the King Prep cosmology club, which is in its inaugural year.

Space Explorer Naa Ashitey is the Quest Bridge Finalist for the University of Chicago
December 12, 2016
KICP Space Explorer Naa Ashitey (third from the left) is the Quest Bridge Finalist for the University of Chicago
Naa will join the UChicago Class of 2021 with a full four-year scholarship as a pre-med/psychology major. She has been a participant in the KICP Space Explorers Program for the past three years.

QuestBridge is a nonprofit program designed to assist high-achieving, academically motivated students from low-income backgrounds apply to top colleges around the nation. The program features the National College Match, in which students rank and apply to up to eight of QuestBridge's partner colleges. Students who are matched receive a generous four-year, no-loan scholarship.

Chicago high school students visit to experience "A day in the life of a scientist"
November 15, 2016
Professor Freedman talks about life as a scientist with the students.
KICP Senior Member Wendy Freedman has been invited to be the 2016-2017 Robert A. Pritzker Visiting Scientist in Residence at Chicago's Francis W. Parker School. The program aims to expand science education opportunities at Parker and foster an ongoing dialogue among students and teachers about current issues in science.

As part of her activities, Professor Freedman recently arranged for students to visit the Eckhardt Research Center for a discussion and tour of the KICP and Astronomy & Astrophysics labs and the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility. Students visited the PNF and the KICP labs of Professor Erik Shirokoff (where Associate Fellow Peter Barry described the lab equipment and activities), and gathered in Professor Stephan Meyer's lab to see a camera that will be used in a balloon-borne experiment to detect cosmic ray showers. Professors Meyer and Freedman also spoke to students about various aspects of their research and their lives as scientists.


Professor Meyer explains Extensive Air Showers to the visiting students.


Stephan Meyer showing the visitors around his lab.


Associate Fellow Peter Barry explaining a piece of apparatus in the Shirokoff lab.

PFC member Daniel Holz discusses Gravitational Waves on PBS' The Good Stuff
October 13, 2016
In 2015 scientists working at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave observatory, or LIGO, detected gravitational waves for the first time. But how did they do it? What is a gravitational wave? And why is confirming something that Albert Einstein predicted a hundred years ago one of the greatest scientific achievements of the past century?Learn more >>

Congratulations to Matthew Richardson, PFC Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program participant!
October 10, 2016
Dr. Matthew Richardson
Congratulations to Matthew Richardson for successfully defending his Ph.D. dissertation on "Constraining Microwave Emission from Extensive Air Showers via the MIDAS Experiment".

"Through a careful analysis of data collected by the MIDAS detector installed at the Pierre Auger Observatory, Matt has established the best limits on microwave emission from Extensive Air Showers induced in the atmosphere by Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECR). His results, an improvement by more than one order of magnitude over previously published limits, place strong constraints on the prospects of this technique for UHECR detection."
- Paolo Privitera

Matt has received a position of Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.

2016 Yerkes Summer Institute: Spy vs. Spy
August 16, 2016
Instructors: Camille Avestruz, Zoheyr Doctor, Gourav Khullar, Richard G. Kron, Randall H. Landsberg, James Lasker, Phil Mansfield, Sam Passaglia, Rebecca Pierce, Jason Poh.

The 2016 Yerkes Summer Institute (YSI) was filled with secrecy, deception, and espionage. At YSI, high school students in the Space Explorers program played the role of 20th-Century spies to handle secret information: revealing, concealing and distorting information. Through three day-long lab activities, the students explored connections between spying and science. In the "Secret Photos" lab, they studied angular size, resolution, and the film-development process in order to effectively gather information on "enemy operatives" using 35 mm cameras. In the "Radio Beams" lab, students designed, built, and tested a system to transmit audio via an amplitude-modulated (AM) laser, which allowed them to secretly communicate across long distances. Lastly, techniques to securely communicate were examined in the "Codes and Ciphers" lab, which also served as an introduction to modern cryptography. After cycling through these three day labs, the students broke into three new groups and took one of the labs a step further: one group doctored photographs to spread false information, another built AM radio transmitters and receivers, and the last created treasure hunts using codes and ciphers for the clues. Nighttime activities included: observations with the Yerkes telescopes, astrophotography, explorations of the constellations which focused on what current research can tell us about them (e.g. most know exoplanets were found by Kepler in the constellation Cygnus); and bad weather activities that included examinations of the veracity of viral internet photos, and stories of famous spies. The week's spy-themed activities not only introduced the students to the importance of privacy in the digital age, but also to the concepts and skills that are integral to any modern STEM career.

Prof. Michael Turner's May 5 lecture at Adler Planetarium to be simulcast nationally
May 5, 2016
Prof. Michael Turner, Director of the PFC and KICP
Prof. Michael Turner will explore some of the biggest mysteries of modern cosmology in a 7:30 p.m. May 5 lecture at the Adler Planetarium. The cosmologist’s Kavli Fulldome Lecture, titled "From the Big Bang to the Multiverse and Beyond," will be streamed live at 15 other institutions across North America.

Kavli Fulldome Lecture
Is the universe part of a larger multiverse? What is speeding up the expansion of the universe? Turner will address these and other mysteries that inspire modern cosmologists. His talk will stream live simultaneously at 15 other institutions across North America. This dome-cast will allow audiences across North America to immerse themselves in the live presentation and ask questions, and will include institutions like the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A theoretical astrophysicist, Turner is the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor and director of its Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. Turner helped to pioneer the interdisciplinary field of particle astrophysics and cosmology. He has made seminal contributions to the current cosmological paradigm known as LambdaCDM, including the prediction of cosmic acceleration. Turner has received numerous prizes and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Current list of institutions participating in the dome-cast:
  • American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
  • Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver.
  • Pacific Science Center, Seattle.
  • Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, N.Y.
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, Minn.
  • Gary E. Sampson Planetarium, Wauwatosa, Wis.
  • Casper Planetarium, Casper, Wyo.
  • Bell Museum of Natural History, Minneapolis.
  • Peoria Riverfront Museum, Peoria, Ill.
  • H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, Vancouver, B.C.
  • The Journey Museum and Learning Center, Rapid City, S.D.
  • Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Madison, Wis.
  • Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, University of Minnesota Duluth.
  • Jackson Middle School Observatory, Champlin, Minn.
  • Planetarium and Visualization Theater, University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Learn more >>

Physics in your future: Brittany Kamai
May 2, 2016
Brittany Kamai, KICP graduate student
When Brittany Kamai took her first astronomy class as a freshman at the University of Hawaii, her professor told her that we can only see about 4% of the stuff in the universe. The rest is made of mysterious substances called dark matter and dark energy. "I found it fascinating that in the entire textbook for our class, there was barely a paragraph about this crazy thing," she recalls. Inspired, Brittany decided to study physics. During the summer before her last year of college, she accepted an opportunity to do research at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. She was hooked. Brittany went on to join the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master's-to-PhD Bridge Program, a two-year program designed to help students with limited undergraduate research experience. She is now in the PhD program at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. But she actually spends most of her time in Chicago, because her research is based at Fermilab, a large U.S. Department of Energy research facility in northern Illinois. Brittany is building what she calls "the world's most precise ruler" - also called a "holometer." She and her colleagues hope to use intersecting laser beams to measure space itself very precisely, so they can look for tiny differences between what they measure and what Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts about it. Brittany and her colleagues are now testing the machine and making it as accurate as possible. They have just begun to run their experiment and hope to have results very soon. She will soon finish graduate school, but plans to continue pursuing experimental research in astrophysics. She likes the variety of work she gets to do. "Sometimes it's nice to say OK, I don't have to go into the lab, I can be behind my computer," she says. "And sometimes it's like, I'm sick of this - let me go back in lab! I enjoy that." When Brittany's not doing science, she's often talking about it, and encouraging young people - especially girls - to pursue it. She sees this as an important part of her job. In the past five years, she has shared her enthusiasm for science at museums, at middle schools and high schools, and even at senior centers. "You talk to people who are 50-plus, they get super-jazzed about it, they tell their kids, their grandkids," she says. "And it's like yes! This is how you get people excited about science."Learn more >>

526th Convocation Address: John Carlstrom - "Our Expanding View Of The Universe"
April 14, 2016
John E. Carlstrom, Deputy Director of the PFC and the KICP
The University Ceremony of the 526th Convocation of the University of Chicago was held on March 18, 2016, in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Provost Eric D. Isaacs introduced Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor, Professor in the Departments Of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics, Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College John Carlstrom, who delivered the Convocation Address, "Our Expanding View Of The Universe."Learn more >>

Michael Turner discusses LIGO & the detection of gravity waves
April 12, 2016
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 discovery. Turner was assistant director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the development of LIGO, which stand 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 collision of two black holes 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.Learn more >>

TCN Panel on Space: Wendy Freedman and Angela Olinto
April 1, 2016

If you can't see it, you won't be it. Future women leaders need examples.

In that spirit, The Chicago Network recently gathered an audience of young women and Network members to hear from four of the world’s foremost astrophysicists - all Network members - to demonstrate the tremendous impact women are making in STEM and the possibilities that lie ahead for the next generation. Young scientists left feeling energized by the program moderated by Adler Planetarium President and CEO Michelle Larson, and ready to take on the challenge of studying even the most profound universal mysteries.

According to Michelle, panelists Wendy Freedman, Vicky Kalogera, and Angela Olinto illustrate more than an exploration of the universe in this program, they demonstrate what it is to discover your own individual capacity for leadership:

The panelists in this program take us on a journey through the Universe, and provide inspiration through their life stories. You will hear about measuring the age and size of the Universe, probing current mysteries like dark energy and dark matter, and opening a new observational era with the discovery of gravitational waves. As you take this journey, also listen for the words passion, people, and perseverance - all play an important role in their success. Finally, listen for the number of times you hear these women say "I led" or "I lead." These panelists are amazing leaders, and each of them is certain you could be too. What a great endorsement of your potential - run with it!
- Michelle Larson, President and CEO, Adler PlanetariumLearn more >>

Life Long Learning program
March 9, 2016
This spring, graduate students, postdocs, and Professors from KICP and the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics will present at least 19 lectures to older adults throughout Chicago, as part of the Life Long Learning program associated with Daniel Grin's NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship. Adults past retirement age make up an increasingly large demographic, and continued cognitive/social engagement are crucial for healthy aging. We'll bring basic and cutting-edge content in astrophysics to interested older adults at city senior centers, retirement homes, and public libraries. We are always looking for more presenters to reach wider audiences. To conclude this year's program, we will bring hundreds of older adults to the Adler Planetarium in June free of charge.

Young women learn that not even sky is limit in STEM careers
February 24, 2016
(From left) Michelle Larson, president & CEO, Adler Planetarium; moderated the panel of speakers including Vicky Kalogera, E.O, Haven professor of physics & astronomy, Northwestern University; Wendy Freedman, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, University of Chicago and KICP senior member; and Angela Olinto, Homer J. Livingston professor, University of Chicago and KICP senior member
Fighting roadblocks is key for women who want to reach success in STEM fields, panelists said Monday at The Chicago Network's Panel on Space.

"We all run into difficulties, but with guys, something is wrong with the test or with the professor or something else, but women internalize it. They say 'I can't do it,'" said Wendy Freedman, an astronomy professor at the University of Chicago.

Freedman was a principal investigator on the Hubble Space Telescope Key Project and also founding chairman of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, dedicated to building a massive telescope to see 20 million times what a human eye can.

Freedman was one of three panelists who spoke to an audience of 150 Girls Scouts, other middle- and high school-age girls, and members of The Chicago Network.

"I remember a high school teacher of mine once said, 'This is too technical, the girls don't have to listen,'" Freedman said. "At university, someone told me that girls belong in the kitchen. We all run into difficulties, but don't give up. Perseverance is critical."

Freedman was joined by Northwestern University's Vicky Kalogera and the University of Chicago's Angela Olinto. The three women spoke about overcoming difficulties as well as the science they've been working on.

"To have the opportunity to share this with the younger generation is important. I know peer pressure is intense to move girls away from science and math, and I know there are not a lot of role models," Kalogera said. "It would have been amazing for me, when I was young, to meet a grown-up scientist and to have a discussion with them and hear from them."

Kalogera is an astrophysicist who worked on the recent discovery of gravitational waves in the universe, which confirmed part of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. She is interested in the interaction of compact objects within binary systems, in which two stars orbit each other. She also is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics at Northwestern.

Kalogera told students about her work in astrophysics in addition to discussing the difficulties she has faced along the way, from receiving a 60 percent on her first test in college to trying to balance being a mother of two and working on her career today.

Angela Olinto studies ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, which aren't well-understood. To study these rays, Olinto is leading the U.S. collaboration to send a cosmic ray telescope to the International Space Station. The project, however, has faced many roadblocks.

"We have the device; we just need a ride there," Olinto said.

She encouraged the young women in the audience to diversify their lives, because other smaller tasks help get you through the day: "I do a lot more than just build telescopes," Olinto said, who also has a passion for music and is a professor at the University of Chicago.

The panel, moderated by Michelle Larson, CEO of Adler Planetarium, provided examples of what women could do with a STEM education.

"Our girls have big dreams about the future, but are unsure about what is out there for them," said Karissa Dewey, troop leader of the Highland Middle School Girl Scouts of Highland, Ind. "Bringing them into the city and introducing them to women in science and technology, they were absolutely floored."Learn more >>

Gravitational Waves Discovery Confirms Einstein's Theory
February 19, 2016
Merging black holes ripple space and time in this artist's concept. Pulsar-timing arrays - networks of the pulsing cores of dead stars - are one strategy for detecting these ripples, or gravitational waves, thought to be generated when two supermassive black holes merge into one. (Image credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions via NASA Jet Propulsion Lab)
Einstein was right: gravitational waves do exist. Scientists confirmed Einstein's theory with the groundbreaking discovery, announced today at the National Press Club, that gravitational waves were detected after a collision of a pair of unusual black holes.

Michael Turner, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, speaks with Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson about what this discovery tells us about our understanding of the universe.

Interview Highlights: Michael Turner

What exactly did scientists discover here?
"I would call this a Galileo moment. The big news today is that 1.3 billion years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, two black holes collided and coalesced to form one black hole, and they twisted and bent and roiled and contorted space-time and that started a ripple, a really big ripple. You would not have wanted to be in that ripple. That ripple traveled 1.3 billion light years to us and it was detected by the gravitational wave detectors in Livingston, Louisiana and in Hanford, Washington that were built by the NSF back in 1992."

On the detection centers in Louisiana and Washington
"This ripple in space-time causes the distance between the end points of the gravitational wave detector, which are four kilometers apart, to change by less than a thousandth the size of the proton."

Which means?
"10-16 centimeters, if you really want it. But it's amazing that human beings can build instruments to do that, and in this new way we look at the universe, the brightest things, and the things that are the easiest to see, are really exotic things."

Give us a sense of what this means for our understanding of the universe. How do we feel today versus yesterday about what's around us?
"I think number one is, Einstein's theory passed the last major test. That's a big one. These are black holes. In general relativity these are the simplest objects; they have the strongest fields and, I'm going to use a slightly technical term here, the waveform that was detected. When you plot the results, they look and see if the waveform agrees with what Einstein’s theory says for two black holes coming together, and it does. So this is a big boost to our understanding of black holes, and then of course I think the final really big one that’s so amazing is that advanced LIGO, they will have earned their 'O.' So Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, so they’re going to be seeing tens of events per year."

So now that we can observe these waves, we can learn much more about them?
"That's right. So the rest of the year there are going to be 10 more events, some of them will be black holes coalescing, some of them will be a black hole leading a neutron star, and the ones that every scientist is so excited about are the surprises, where you go 'Oh my god, what is that? We never calculated that. What's that thing?' So it's the surprises and every time we've turned our eyes on the universe with a new kind of instrument, x-rays or microwaves, the most important discovery is not the one we said, 'Oh yeah, we're gonna do this one for sure,' it's the big surprise. People are very excited for what surprises lie ahead."

Is this the most exciting moment of your scientific career?
"I've been very lucky. Dark matter, dark energy, inflation, this has just been a very exciting time in our understanding of the universe. I have to tell you about a meeting that took place, I spoke at it, in 1965. Before 1965 you could have said, 'Oh, we live in a pretty boring universe. We've got these ordinary starts and this and that.' 1965 is kind of when this revolution began, the discovery of the microwave background that told us about the Big Bang. The discovery of quasars, which turned out to be objects powered by black holes followed by neutron stars. We live in this amazing universe in which stars like our sun are very ordinary and we have all these exotic objects that we're studying and inspiring the next generation of scientists with."Learn more >>