Famed theoretical physicist proves 'Math Is Key' in finding gravitational waves


By: Tim Brouk

“Math is … ?”


Famed theoretical physicist S. James Gates Jr. delivered his excellent presentation, “Sono-Astronomy: When the Cosmos Does the Wave, It Does Wave with Gravity,” as the main event of the annual “Math Is Key” lecture, promoted by the Department of Mathematics and held March 29 at Fowler Hall inside Stewart Center.

A distinguished professor of physics at University of Maryland as well as a recent television commercial star for Turbo Tax, Gates wove mathematics throughout his talk, reinforcing how the field is the language or “storytelling device” for physics. He brought the audience of hundreds of students, faculty and community members into the talk by having them finish his points where “Math is,” indeed, “KEEEEYYYY!”

After discussing famed physicists’ theories and how mathematics translated the theories of Alfred Einstein, Isaac Newton and Heinrich Hertz, Gates got to the recent discovery of Einstein’s theorized gravitational waves, which extend from two black holes circling each other, merging into a single massive black hole more than 1 billion years ago. Gates said he was “giddy” at the news and could scratch off the waves' discovery from his “2006 Theorist Bucket List.”

Gates said the gravitational waves could lead to a new form of astronomy, which he calls “sono-astronomy.” The waves are like layers of sound and thanks to new technology at Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories, the waves can communicate what the universe looked like hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago.

And what is the key to the basis of how these waves are received and imaged? Math, of course.


Prof. S. James Gates Jr. speaks at Purdue's Fowler Hall on March 29.

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