A Concordia University Wisconsin professor, along with collaborators from Penn State and Kenyon College in Ohio, will soon embark upon a five-year research project to enhance the study of gravitational waves.

Aaron Viets, PhD, an assistant professor who teaches undergraduate physics courses at CUW, is one of three investigators named on a grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). While NSF funds approximately 25 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities, the application process is highly competitive. In previous years, the funding rate for research proposals has hovered around 21 percent overall.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this elite research team,” said Viets.

The team’s NSF-funded project aims to enable real-time detections of gravitational waves through the development of a robust cyberinfrastructure that will cooperate with data gained from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). LIGO is a large-scale physics experiment that utilizes observatory locations at at Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana, to detect cosmic gravitational waves and to develop gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool.

The project will involve an array of undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, computational scientists, and faculty across Concordia, Penn State, and Kenyon. Of the researchers named on the grant, Viets and Kenyon’s Dr. Madeline Wade will focus their efforts on calibration of the LIGO interferometers. Principal Investigator Dr. Chad Hanna of Penn State will be involved in the analysis of data from search pipelines.

Viets earned his PhD in gravitational-wave physics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2019 and his bachelor’s in physics from Missouri University of Science and Technology. Viets became involved in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration at UWM and learned calibration techniques from Wade, who was an outgoing graduate student there at the time.

“My adviser at UWM asked me if I’d be willing to help with calibration, and once I started, it absorbed all of my attention,” Viets said. “I’ve been interested in physics since I was 12. GGeGeneral relativity is fascinating to me.”

The first detection of LIGO waves was in 2015. Since that time, researchers have utilized LIGO to progress their fields of study through their observations of black holes, neutron stars, and, in general, the large-scale structure of the universe.

“It basically opens a new window to see the universe,” Viets said. “It’s been an exciting area of study for me.”

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— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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