In life, Albert Einstein knew where Pisa is in Italy, but even as a genius he would hardly have known how to spot Livingston Parish in Louisiana on the map.
But scientists in Livingston, working with colleagues in Pisa, have again used Einstein’s theoretical contributions to observe the workings of the universe.
The LIGO project’s Livingston outpost is one of two sites in this country where incredibly delicate measurements of gravitational waves give scientists insights into black holes, neutron stars and events billions of years ago.
The latest discovery involves a black hole across the universe swallowing a smaller neutron star. Those observations were in collaboration with scientists in Pisa.
Why Livingston Parish? When the project was begun by the California Institute of Technology, one site was located near the federal facilities in Hanford, Wash. Another had to be across the country to triangulate the measurements.
Each center consists of two four-kilometer-long, vacuum-sealed tubes in which are suspended some of the world’s finest mirrors — the only way to gain a reading on the infinitesimally small gravitational waves.
When LSU stepped up to the project and state government under Gov. Edwin W. Edwards helped fund land acquisition, our state became host to the second site in the United States.
The late LSU Chancellor Jim Wharton, who died this year, was always proud of his role in bringing the LIGO campus to Louisiana. Edwards, now facing hospice care, can look back on many accomplishments, but one of his relatively small projects now gives mankind an insight into the universe.
In Livingston Parish.