It’s not every day high school students can build their own gravitational wave detector.
And specifically create secret wave forms for others to detect.
It was part of a digital project through the Gravitational Wave Summer Camp — a free, three-day camp held this week for high school students hosted at Penn State with help from the Institute for CyberScience and the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos.
It included 16 students from Bellefonte, Philipsburg-Osceola and State College area school districts. One student, Gabriel Newvine, of Hughesville, was from the farthest away.
“It’s cool to do things in the sciences that you can’t always do in regular science class,” Newvine, 16, said. “It’s engaging, and one of the things was using realistic (computer) code to make secret wave forms. In a way, it was like a scavenger hunt for the other group of students to find.”
He said they used computer codes and operating systems, followed parameters to make and detect the waves and located the “chirps” of the waves that Newvine said “actually had sounds.”
Penn State physics professor Chad Hanna said the objective of the camp was to help high school students detect gravitational waves and teach them the physics behind the discoveries.
They learned about how to search for gravitational waves; built and operated a miniature high-throughput computing cluster; and participated in informal lectures on gravitational wave astrophysics, data analysis and computing.
Gravitational waves are ripples in space, which come from the merging or colliding of black holes.
“On a small scale, they used a supercomputer to research and analyze data,” Hanna said of camp curriculum.
Supercomputers are a series of computers that perform at the highest operating level and simultaneously solve problems.
The program, in its inaugural year, was spearheaded by Hanna and a research team.
He said the team hoped to get at least 10 students to sign up.
But by this summer, 20 students registered, and 16 committed to the camp.
“I’d say it went above our expectations,” Hanna said.
He said the idea to set up a summer camp came after members of Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory discovered gravitational waves created by two colliding black holes in space.
The two gravitational wave detectors LIGO oversees are located in rural Louisiana and Washington state.
According to a report from LIGO, the discovery came about 100 years after Albert Einstein’s prediction.
They were discovered in September, but a formal announcement was made in February, Hanna said.
“It kind of sparked this whole idea to do an educational outreach camp, and show how something like this can be a part of kids’ learning,” Hanna said. “We’re kind of at the beginning stages of this kind of research that’s been going on for over 60 years, but we know it’s important. It might sound cliche, but it’s a different way to look at the universe. It’s like hearing the universe, not just seeing it.”
The students also got a tour of Penn State’s Data Center on Tower Road by guide John “Tex” Whatley, which Hanna said that, when completed, he and his team of researchers can use to analyze data.