The news that three prominent US scientists had won the Nobel Prize in physics for their work in detecting gravitational waves was particularly exciting for one Bowdoin graduate.
As a PhD student at Columbia University, Alexa Staley ’11 worked for two years with researchers at the Laser-Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, known as LIGO, which in 2015 detected gravitational waves for the first time.
Those waves were caused by the collision of two black holes in deep space 1.3 billion years ago.
Three of the project’s senior scientists, Rainer Weiss, Barry. S. Barish,and Kip C. Thorne, are sharing the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics, for what the Swedish academy described as “decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”
Staley, who is now an engineer with a California-based quantum computing startup, said she was “beyond excited” at the news. “LIGO has had an extraordinary past few years,” she continued, “and this prize was very well deserved by Rai, Kip, Barry, and everyone in the collaboration. I am so honored to have had the opportunity work there and be part of such an incredible team.
“And thanks to the Bowdoin physics department, especially Professor Baumgarte, for always encouraging me to study physics and never give up.” Staley, daughter of Bowdoin College Trustee Jes Staley ’79, thought about being an economics major when she first came to the College, but after encountering Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity in a course taught by Baumgarte, Staley says she was hooked.