Gravitational waves discovery aided by Alberta brothers

It's being called one of the most significant scientific discoveries from the past 50 years, and several Albertans had a hand in it.

Former University of Calgary students worked on study confirming Einstein's prediction

The silhouette of a scientist against a visualisation of gravitational waves pictured during a press conference at the Leibniz University in Germany this month. (Julian Stratenschulte/EPA)

It's being called one of the most significant scientific discoveries from the past 50 years, and some Albertans had a hand in it. 

Scientists announced on Thursday they had discovered gravitational waves — ripples in space time. It's the confirmation scientists needed of a theory predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity 100 years ago.

Teviet Creighton grew up in Calgary, and studied at the University of Calgary. He's now an associate professor of physics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Creighton started working with the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in 1994.

He said the discovery will have a profound impact on how we understand our universe. 

"It is a confirmation of what we thought we knew about gravity," he said. "It's a confirmation that we know how gravity works in these very extreme conditions of colliding black holes."

It's a whole new way of looking at the universe, Creighton said.

Teviet Creighton and his brother, Jolien, used to study at the University of Calgary. Now they're part of the team of scientists that confirmed the existence of gravitational waves/ (Pu Chen/Supplied)

"This is giving us more sound-like information about the universe," he explained. "It can penetrate through intervening matter, we can use it to listen deep in the hearts of stars or listen all the way back to the earliest moments of the universe that are blocked to us, that block light, or even farther."

Scientists may even be able to hear back as far as the Big Bang, Creighton said.

Future promise

Both Creighton and his brother, Jolien, were involved in the study confirming the existence of gravitational waves, among other Albertans. 

"This is great," Creighton said. "It's a very exciting time. This is a fantastic milestone that we've reached. This is the first of many observations that we're going to be making with LIGO and with gravitational wave detectors."

"It's at once exciting, a relief to know that it has paid off in this way but also exciting for the future to know what we're going to be able to do with instruments of this type in the future."

As for what Einstein would say? 

"I think he would say, 'I'm impressed.'"

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