PULTENEY STREET SURVEY - SUMMER 2016
David Niedzwiecki ’05
LIGO TAKES SHAPE
by Steven Bodnar
As one of the very first student researchers to work with Associate Professor of Physics Steven Penn at HWS, David Niedzwiecki ’05 had firsthand experience in contributing to the early stages of the Colleges’ connection to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration.
“I was a sophomore when Steve joined the faculty and I ended up working in his lab for the next three summers,” recalls Niedzwiecki, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Pennsylvania where he specializes in nanotechnology and nanofluidics. “At first we were putting together the equipment – there was a lot of wrench-turning and soldering electronics in order to get to where we could start characterizing the thermal noise in fused silica samples.”
Niedzwiecki was part of the early HWS tests on reducing the thermal noise on fused silica, the very material that was selected for the Advanced LIGO mirror substrates and suspensions.
“I was really excited about it at the time and I didn’t really have an idea how important it would be,” says Niedzwiecki, who was able to visit the LIGO observatory in Hanford, Wash., during his senior year. “I was working on the system to build Advanced LIGO and it ended up working exactly as predicated 10 years before. It did what it was supposed to do.”
Niedzwiecki says that thanks to the connections between faculty and students available at HWS, he was able to get real laboratory experience that translated well into his graduate and postdoctoral work, all while having access to cutting-edge research.
“Having that one-on-one working relationship with Steve was almost unique among my peers outside of HWS,” he says. “Very rarely did undergraduates get to work with faculty for that period of time.”
Leading up to and following the announcement of the breakthrough discovery, Niedzwiecki says his experience working with Penn on the LIGO project has had a significant impact on his work today.
“I’m proud of being one of the people who worked on LIGO,” he says. “I was part of it in a small way, but very happy to do that.”
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