The Virginia Tech College of Science next week will launch its J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series with debut speaker Professor David Reitze, physicist and executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Project at Cal Tech, known as LIGO for short.

Through the LIGO project, Reitze and his large team of international scientists announced in spring 2016 that they recorded the signal of two black holes colliding. The detection is a blockbuster moment in science history that proves Einstein’s century-old theory of relativity and the existence of gravitational waves — ripples in the space-time fabric that were up until now the stuff of science-fiction. The detection was named the 2016 Breakthrough of the Year by Science Magazine and well could win the Nobel prize.

Reitze will speak about what makes gravitational waves so difficult to detect and, yet at the same time, such powerful and unique probes of the universe. “I will talk about how we made the detection and discuss how gravitational astronomy promises to change our understanding of the universe,” said Reitze.

His talk will take place at 7:30 p.m.Feb. 1, 2017, at 190 Goodwin Hall, Quillen Auditorium.

The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited in the main auditorium, but overflow seating will be available.

The talk launches the J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series in the College of Science. The series is funded by J. Mark Sowers, a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and developer and longtime supporter of the College of Science. The series, which builds off a number of science-based symposiums held several years ago within the College of Science, is designed to serve as a forum to exchange new and innovative ideas in scientific fields, including physics, nanotechnology, and neuroscience.

“This new guest lecture series provides opportunities for the university community and general public to interact with and learn from many of the best names in science, including Nobel laureates, scholars, and industry experts with experience in science, business, government, and medicine,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science.

“This series is part of our college vision and core values of science excellence, discovery, diversity of both people and ideas and Ut Prosim, That I May Serve, Virginia Tech’s motto. Bringing these well-known scientists to the New River Valley community is an excellent way to bring together our neighbors in a joint pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding.”

All lectures will take place on the Virginia Tech campus. As with Reitze’s talk, they are free and open to the public. Additional speakers in the series include

- Naomi J. Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, physics, and astronomy, and director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics at Rice University, on Feb. 23, 2017;

- Arthur B. McDonald, professor emeritus of physics, engineering physics, and astronomy at Queen’s University in Montreal, and a 2015 Nobel Prize winner in physics, April 27, 2017;

- Nigel D. Goldenfeld, holder of the Center for Advanced Study Professorship and Swanlund Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sept. 14, 2017; and

-J. David Sweatt, chair of Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, Sept. 26, 2017.

A program committee for the lecture series is comprised of faculty from the college’s Department of Physics, the Academy of Integrated Science, which includes a program in nanoscience, and the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech. This group developed and recruited the guest lecturers for the 2017 series.

“I hope that people will be inspired by the lecture series and to bring attention to Virginia Tech and its brilliant researchers for the advancement of fundamental physics,” said Sowers in explaining the idea of the series and funding for guest speakers to the College of Science. “I feel that we may be at the beginning of a new era of physics, a time where great things could happen. And I want to help encourage that, to help promote and bring awareness to those working on the cutting edge.”

Sowers first brought guest speakers from around the world to the Department of Physics as part of a workshop symposium series in 2007 after having befriended several members of the Virginia Tech science community.

“This lecture series is a continuation of the original workshop,” added Sowers.


Related story on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Project: 

Science alumnus James Lough helps with historic discovery of gravitational waves




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