A proposal co-sponsored by France and Italy to plan the Southern Hemisphere's first full-scale gravity wave observatory (GWO) near Gingin (80km north of Perth) will be discussed at a three-day international workshop "Physics for the Future" hosted by The University of Western Australia on September 27-29.
The event has attracted international, federal and State politicians and delegates, Australian business representatives, leading scientists from Italy, France, China, Taiwan and the USA, and scientists from the university sector and CSIRO.
The workshop includes a tour of UWA's Gravity Science Precinct located on the 50 square kilometre site set aside for the observatory by the WA Government. The precinct includes the gravitational wave research facility as well as the Gravity Discovery Centre, the Zadko robotic telescope and Gingin Observatory.
UWA Winthrop Professor David Blair, Director of the Australian International Gravitational Research Centre, said the proposed new facility would cost $200 million to establish and form part of an international array of gravity wave detectors involving more than 1000 physicists from around the world.
Building the Southern Hemisphere's first full-scale gravity wave observatory would double the value of five other large gravity wave detectors in the Northern Hemisphere because it would enable precise triangulation of signals, Professor Blair said. The workshop was sponsored by the governments of Italy and France, and Clough Engineering, and is supported by local communities in the Gingin area.
Professor Blair said the Gravitational Wave Observatory Development Committee believed the present opportunity was of major significance to science and technology in Australia.
"Sharing frontier technologies will bring Australia to the forefront of international fundamental physics and benefit Australian science, technology, education and industry," Professor Blair said.
"Involving international partners would bring scientific participants from around the world and make WA a world focal point for breakthrough discoveries in the same way that CERN (the European Organsation for Nuclear Research) in Geneva became the world focus for the recent discovery of the long-sought Higgs particle."
Professor Blair said gravitational waves are ripples in space generated by cosmic events such as colliding stars, black holes, and supernova explosions. They carry vast amounts of energy at the speed of light but their detection has only now come within reach through new high-power lasers and quantum measurement technology.
"Albert Einstein predicted gravity waves in 1916 but thought they would be undetectable," Professor Blair said. "The discovery of black holes, combined with massive technological innovations in measurement science has completely changed the picture.
"By multiplying the performance of the world-wide array, the Australian detector increases the number of detectable signals and enables other telescopes to steer to places where black holes are forming in the universe."
The proposed new Gingin facility would be four kilometres long and use laser interferometer technology to detect and pinpoint the origin of gravity waves, Professor Blair said. It would work in tandem with the Square Kilometre Array - the world's biggest radio telescope being built jointly by Australia and South Africa - to study gravity waves and their sources in detail.
Gingin is already home to a min-gravitational wave detector developed by Professor Blair. He described it as a "baby" compared with the proposed full-scale version, which requires more funding to be built.
An executive briefing will include Australian astrophysicist and 2011 Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt speaking on "Gravitational Waves - Tool for Future Astronomy"; Professor Stan Whitcomb from the Gravitational Wave International Committee explaining "The International Need for the Australian GWO"; and an outline from UWA Adjunct Associate Professor and AIGRC Chief Geophysicist Howard Golden on the "National Benefits of the GWO".
The Perth-based international workshop's first day will include a meeting at WA Parliament House with the State Minister for Regional Development and Leader of the WA Parliamentary National Party, the Hon. Brendan Grylls, and Australian and overseas attendees, including gravity wave physicists.
The three-day event also includes the Perth launch of a new book "Advanced Gravitational Wave Detectors" co-edited by Professor Blair, UWA Associate Professors Li Ju and Chunnong Zhao, and UWA Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Eric Howell.