Saturday, February 27, 2016

Brian Greene's LIGO Colbert lecture was excellent

Stephen Colbert, a guy who became famous for ludicrously imitating Bill O'Reilly, has another show on TV. Brian Greene is his friend and is often invited by Colbert to talk some physics on TV.

Two days ago, Greene gave this 8-minute introduction on gravitational waves and LIGO and I think that as popularization of science, it was excellent.

There was some Einstein worshiping, usual comments about the warped space, and the spacetime as a trampoline. The waves were also made to arrive to the Earth. As a friend of Richard Feynman once said when Feynman showed him an experiment involving an electromagnet, the motion looked just like f*cking.

This motion was exaggerated, Brian said, and Colbert was relieved. The actual change of the Earth's diameter caused by the gravitational wave that LIGO has observed is comparable to the atomic radius. How can it be measured, laymen often ask? Colbert asked the same question and for a moment, you could have been afraid that theorist Greene wasn't going to give a great answer.

But you would have been totally wrong. Greene brought his own small LIGO to the studio – well, an interferometer. They looked at the interference pattern and the strips were moving to sides when Colbert was yelling "science". To see these things in practice is probably more intriguing than just a theoretical talk.

At the end, Greene played a "chirp" from a simulated black hole merger. It sounded like a Skype alert – someone is calling you – and it made the people laugh, of course. It is ironic that these heavy monsters supported by some God's formidably beautiful laws of physics sound like chipmonks.

Gravitational waves are ultimately a rather simple piece of physics but the explanations of their existence and the scientific and technological hurdles that were overcome before the waves became "intelligible" are nontrivial enough to make many people interested. The YouTube video has over one million views after two days which is not bad for a physics video.

Good job, Brian.

By the way, Indian prime minister Modi himself has just said that India will participate in LIGO.

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