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Person-to-person: Amber Stuver at LIGO

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Penn State physics alumna Amber Stuver began working on LIGO research as a graduate student at Penn State. Stuver currently works as a LIGO scientist at the LIGO Livingston observatory and a physics instructor at Louisiana State University
Person-to-person: Amber Stuver at LIGO

Amber Stuver

“LIGO has been the entirety of my career since the summer before I started graduate school,” Stuver said. “I am fortunate to have been exposed to wonderful mentors at Penn State and supportive colleagues throughout my career.”

Her work began under Gabriela Gonzalez in June 1999, and continued with Sam Finn in 2001 after Gonzalez left Penn State. Each adviser taught her different skills that she could bring to the collaboration.

With Gonzalez, she said, “I was able to learn more about LIGO by working with her on the instrumentation needed for Advanced LIGO.” Her work with Finn took a different approach to the LIGO project: “With him, I learned how to analyze the large amounts of data that LIGO takes through statistical computer programming.”

When gravitational waves were detected at LIGO, Stuver also thought the reading was the result of a test. When LIGO announced that there had been no tests that day, Stuver’s gradual realization of the discovery began.

“That's when I realized that this is not a drill.  As the weeks went on and this detection candidate passed every test applied to it, we gradually became more convinced that what we recorded wasn't only the first direct detection of gravitational waves, but also the first observation of a binary black hole system.”

When the announcement was made to the public, Stuver loved being able to finally acknowledge the discovery at a satellite event at the Livingston Observatory, where she works. “The excitement from all of the guests and the media was a high by itself. I live tweeted the event, gave tours to the visitors, spoke at a local government meeting, and did several interviews about the discovery all on the same day. It was more than I ever imagined and worth every minute of work.”

LIGO will spend the foreseeable future continuing to search for gravitational waves and increasing the sensitivity of their detectors. “The goal of this project was never just to detect gravitational waves and be done. It has been to observe on a long-term basis,” said Stuver.

Stuver is excited by this prospect. “This detection is the beginning of a new branch of astronomy—gravitational-wave astronomy. This is tantamount to Galileo using the telescope for the first time to observe this Universe. We now have a new tool to observe systems in the Universe we may never be able to observe in any other way. The black hole binary system could never have been observed in any way other than gravitational waves. If this is the first thing we see with our new detector, imagine what is to come!”