After breakthrough gravitational wave finding, LIGO scientists look ahead to new discoveries _lowres

Photo provided by LIGO -- The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory

There must have been a collective gasp Tuesday morning when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was going for work in the area of exotic matter, not for the detection of gravitational waves.

The founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory had been odds-on favorites for this year’s prize when they announced in February that their twin detectors in Livingston Parish and Hanford, Washington, had found ripples in spacetime caused by a billion-year-old black hole merger.

They were a “slam-dunk” for the Nobel, the Washington Post said Monday.

So, what happened?

One possibility is that the academy couldn’t decide which three people – because a Nobel Prize can be awarded to only three – among LIGO’s 1,000-plus scientists should receive the honor.

The three founders of the project – Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever – would be the obvious choice. But some in the physics community suggested former LIGO Director Barry Barish should be included for his role in reviving the stalled project in the mid-1990s.

Barish told Science Magazine just last week: “I think there’s a bit of truth that LIGO wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do it…. If they (the Nobel Committee) wait a year and give it to these three guys, at least I’ll feel that they thought about it. If they decide this October, I’ll have more bad feelings because they won’t have done their homework.”

A simpler explanation, though, would be that LIGO’s announcement of the discovery came too late in the year. Although rumors had been swirling about the detection since September, and the team had submitted its findings to a peer-reviewed journal on Jan. 21, the scientists did not publicly confirm the news until Feb. 11.

The deadline for Nobel nominations was Jan. 31.

The Nobel Foundation keeps confidential the identities of both the nominators and the nominees for 50 years, so it’s impossible to say whether LIGO was even in the running this year. But one thing appears certain among the physics community: LIGO is now the odds-on favorite for 2017.

'We got to run the parish'

The St. James Parish Council stood clear this week of the recent public corruption indictments against Parish President Timmy Roussel and two of his administrators.

It was business as usual Wednesday night in Convent as the council dispatched ordinances, approved expenses and payroll, set Halloween trick-or-treating hours and authorized Roussel to sign off on legal documents for the annual Christmas bonfires with no comment about the indictments handed up a week earlier.

Afterward, council members said they weren’t going to comment with the legal process pending. Council Chairman Alvin “Shark” St. Pierre said his constituents have asked questions about the indictments but have not pressed him to have the council make any kind of joint statement on Roussel.

“As the council chairman, I’m going to let the process take place,” St. Pierre said.

Councilman Eddie Kraemer pointedly noted that “you can indict a ham sandwich” and said he wants to see what happens in court. He said it would not be fair for the council to make a statement about the indictments but said people need to have their day in court.

“We got to run the parish. No matter what’s going on, we got to deal with it and move forward and try to work together to try to keep St. James Parish moving,” Kraemer said. “This is going to hurt all of us. Everything single person in St. James Parish is going to be affected by it for different reasons, and I don’t think me saying one way or the other is going to help the situation.”

Roussel and Blaise Gravois, parish director of operations who was also indicted on Sept. 28, both declined comment after the council meeting, citing the advice of their attorneys.

More mayoral platforms come to light

The city-parish's Center for Planning and Excellence, CPEX, wants the next mayor-president to focus on Baton Rouge's "quality of place" if people here are to have good "quality of life."

CPEX unveiled its mayoral platform this week.

Among the group's suggestions are for the next mayor: improve cooperation among public agencies, make the parish less vulnerable to future natural disasters, implement new types of transportation like a rail from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, give permanent funding to the Redevelopment Authority, create more inviting places throughout the parish and preserve natural resources.

"The acute disparities revealed and losses suffered in the recent tragedies are a result of a historical litany of policies and decisions that must be thoroughly re-examined and revised," CPEX said in its platform announcement.

BREC Superintendent wins national award

Recreation and Parks Commission Superintendent Carolyn McKnight has won the National Recreation and Park Association's national distinguished professional award for her leadership at the agency.

BREC was a finalist for the association's gold medal award for 2016, which went to the park system for Cleveland, Ohio. But McKnight walked away with a top award for park administrators, which goes to someone who has made "outstanding contributions" to their field in leadership, research, advocacy, community outreach and program development.

McKnight said she is especially proud of BREC's work after the recent floods that devastated Baton Rouge and surrounding areas.

“I have been proud to see our team members rise to the challenge and respond to help the community in every possible way, despite nearly a quarter of our work force being impacted by the historic flood,” McKnight said in a statement. “We will continue these efforts and hope that we can celebrate a year from now by bringing the Gold Medal to East Baton Rouge Parish."

Ascension agenda setting

Ascension Parish School Board President Patricia Russo defended this week the board’s longstanding policy on setting agendas for full board meetings and the board chose not to seek an opinion from the Louisiana State Attorney General’s Office about the policy.

Board member Robyn Penn Delaney and a few other members have complained they have been blocked from putting items on the agenda in the past. They wanted a second look at a policy they contend is not clear.

By a 3-5 vote on Tuesday, the board rejected seeking the free legal review from the state’s top lawyer.

“I’ve been on this board for a long time. We have never had this issue, ever. This is how we’ve done it for 18 years,” Russo said. “We have policies. We have procedures. We have followed them every step of the way.”

Though residents and board members can seek to have items placed on the agenda and can comment on any item that is on agenda, the policy seems to indicate the power to set the agenda rests with the board president. Delaney has noted, however, that board members are asked by email from the central office to approve each meeting agenda.

Delaney said that while current Superintendent David Alexander has been helpful with agenda items, she and others had a hard time previously.

Russo said constituent issues brought up by board members should go through the board committee process first.

“Let’s discuss it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s have all board members understand exactly what they’re asking. We don’t vote on anything in this meeting unless we have all the information,” Russo said.

Those voting against seeking the opinion were Kerry Diez, John Murphy, Lorraine Wimberly, Louis Lambert and Troy Gautreau. Delaney, Shawn Sevario, Scott Duplechein voted to seek the opinion. As board president, Russo does not vote unless to break a tie.

Board members Julie Blouin, who had pushed for the opinion also, and Taft Kleinpeter were absent for the vote.