Rebecca Li

Gravitational Waves and a Gordon Student

A century after Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime—scientists have confirmed his theory. Just last week, MIT’s LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) group announced that for the first time ever, such waves were detected. When news of this monumental discovery broke, we went straight to Dr. David Lee, who chairs Gordon’s Physics Department, for his thoughts.

News Headline: Einstein’s right again: Scientists detect ripples in gravity
Media Source: AP, by Seth Borenstein
Faculty Reflection on the News: Dr. David Lee, physics, Gordon College

“As they said in the news conference that we watched live with our students, these gravitational waves were produced by the violent merger of two spinning black holes some 1.5 billion years ago. All of our astronomical observations since the dawn of history have been via either electromagnetic waves (by eye or binoculars, telescopes, radio telescopes, microwave telescopes or x-ray telescopes) or particle spectroscopy (cosmic rays and neutrinos). LIGO pronounces the dawn of a new era in observational astronomy by giving us a third technology with which to study the universe around us.

“And physics major Rebecca Li ’17 (pictured above) played a part in this awesome verification of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which predicted the existence of these waves 100 years ago. She did a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internship at the LIGO site in Hanford, Washington, this past summer. Rebecca built and refined a sophisticated model of the interferometer which aided in both the control systems aspect of operation and also noise analysis of signals. It was on September 14—only weeks after her internship—that the gravitational wave signals were detected.

“Rebecca is just one of several Gordon students who participate in REU internships sponsored by the National Science Foundation at research labs across the country every year. Others do summer internships at high-tech companies large and small, or at research universities around the world.” —Dr. David Lee

David LeeDr. David Soong-hua Lee
Physics Department Chair; 3–2 Engineering Program Coordinator; Professor of Physics
B.S.E. Princeton University
M.S. California Institute of Technology
Ph.D. California Institute of Technology

Dr. Lee holds 15 U.S. patents (including patents on sports equipment, advanced materials, and tools for pharmaceuticals research). He joined Gordon College’s Physics Department in 2007, bringing a dozen years of industry experience to help students connect their classroom experience with their real-world potential. As department chair, Lee has built the College’s 3-2 Engineering Program into a top-rate option for high-achieving engineering students, and expanded research and internship opportunities.

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