Adelaide projects are top physics breakthroughs of 2017

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Two teams from the University of Adelaide’s School of Physical Sciences have made the top 10 list in Physics World magazine’s 2017 Breakthrough of the Year awards, including the top prize.

The revolutionary new field of multi-messenger gravitational astronomy, which an international team of scientists have created, won the award for number one breakthrough from the magazine for physics professionals. University of Adelaide scientists were part of the international Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)-Virgo Collaboration that detected the spectacular collision of two neutron stars.

Evidence that has resolved the debate into the origin of cosmic rays also made the top 10. The culmination of 25 years of research by University of Adelaide scientists, as members of the international Pierre Auger Collaboration, answered the conundrum 50 years after rays were first detected.

“To be part of the team awarded the top spot in the world’s top 10 is an amazing honour. But to have two teams recognised in the list is a superlative achievement,” says Professor Peter Veitch, Head of Physics, University of Adelaide.

In August, scientists observed for the first time ever a cosmic event by both gravitational waves (or ripples in space-time) and the more conventional light waves, by detecting them using ground and space-based observatories around the world. The discovery was made using the Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo detectors, which identified the event and provided its sky location, and about 70 ground and space-based telescopes.

Two years previously, the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration had made the landmark detection of gravitational waves from the collision of black holes. Neutron star collisions also emit light, which can be detected by conventional telescopes if they know where to look. The LIGO-Virgo detection prompted the telescopes to concentrate on a small part of the sky, providing an extraordinary view of the neutron star collision.

“Now we know both what happened and where it happened – from this discovery, multi-messenger gravitational astronomy was born,” Professor Veitch says.

The Pierre Auger Collaboration of scientists provided the first conclusive evidence that real atomic material, not just star-light, arrives at Earth from galaxies beyond our own. Since the 1960s, when the existence of high-energy cosmic rays was first established, scientific debate has raged as to their origin. The team observed an uneven pattern of cosmic rays with an excess arriving from a direction where the density of galaxies is relatively high.

“The University of Adelaide’s expertise in determining the composition of this material will be crucial in the next steps towards understanding its origin,” says Emeritus Professor Roger Clay, High Energy Astrophysics Group, University of Adelaide.

“Both these multinational scientific collaborations, in which our scientists have played a key role, have made ground-breaking contributions to astronomy and astrophysics,” says Professor Peter Veitch.


Contact Details

Professor Peter Veitch
Head of Physics
School of Physical Sciences
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: +61 (0)422 906 827

Emeritus Professor Roger Clay
High-Energy Astrophysics Group
School of Physical Sciences
The University of Adelaide
Business: 8313 5046

Mr Crispin Savage
Media Officer
University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 7194