A century ago, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of something called gravitational waves, which are no more than ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by a cataclysmic event happening somewhere in the universe. Ho hum. Since Einstein made his prediction, as part of his theory of general relativity, scientists have been trying to prove the existence of the cosmic ripples. Those attempts were unsuccessful until September 14, 2015, when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected a clear and strong indication of gravitational waves caused by the collision of two black holes over a billion light years away.
Those waves, just now reaching Earth, were detected by two LIGO detectors, one in Livingston, Louisiana and the other in Hanford, Washington. (A third detector was recently approved to be constructed in India.) If the phrase “ripples in spacetime” isn’t enough to make your jaw drop, let me reiterate: Two black holes collided, merged into one giant black hole, and generated a blast of energy equal to about three times the mass of the sun – in fact, LIGO researchers estimate that the power generated by this collision was 50 times the collective power output of the visible universe. This was over a billion years ago. A few months ago, that collision was sensed here on Earth.This event in itself is mindblowing, but the fact that it confirms, for the first time, a theory that no one has been able to prove for a hundred years, has scientists losing their minds right now. The discovery was kept under wraps until the team at LIGO could be one hundred percent sure that they had, in fact, detected gravitational waves; the announcement was made public on February 11 and the findings were published in a journal.
The discovery also means that scientists have an entirely new way of studying the cosmos. Until now, astronomers have been able to “see” the universe by the electromagnetic radiation generated by celestial bodies, but objects that emit no light, like neutron stars and black holes, obviously can’t be observed by light output. Gravitational wave detection allows for these objects to be studied in a new way, and also gives us a way to study huge, long-ago cosmic events.
So how does the average person commemorate such a massive discovery? By 3D printing it, of course. The gravitational waves were converted to sound waves, which LIGO published on their website. We’ve seen a few artists who have 3D printed sound waves before, and that’s exactly what Jeremy Burnich of Joy Complex did. The Pittsburgh artist has done a lot of work with 3D printing sound before; he has created a line of jewelry printed from the sound waves of the words “I love you,” as well as customized messages. He’s also made conductor’s batons from musical sound waves, and while he has done some incredible non-sound-related prints, his printed sound waves are his trademark. Gravitational waves were just a little bit of a step up.
“I decided to take a ride on the gravitational wave story so to speak,” Burnich told 3DPrint.com. “With the recent announcement that gravitational waves have been observed I decided to adapt the technique I use to print sound waves on steel dog tags to putting the converted gravitational wave forms on a commemorative paperweight.”
The LIGO Gravitational Waves paperweight was designed as a “stylized representation” of the two LIGO observatories: Hanford on one side, Livingston on the other. The waves detected by each observatory are printed beneath their names. The design is still in beta, but you can purchase it in a variety of metals for $35 or plastic for $25-$40. Burnich printed the paperweight in stainless steel, with a width of 4.342 cm and a height of 4.174 cm – the perfect size to sit on your desk and remind you that you live in an incredible era of scientific discovery. You can see and hear the gravitational waves below: entrancing, aren’t they? Discuss in the 3D Printed Gravitational Waves forum over at 3DPB.com.