Skip to navigation Skip to content


Foreword by Martin Hendry

Global team solves universal mystery…

Foreword by Martin Hendry

Foreword by Martin Hendry MBE FInstP FRAS FRSE

Global team solves universal mystery

From Sherlock Holmes to Rebus, there is a long history of famous Scottish fictional detectives. In 2015, however, a “cosmic detective” story unfolded that would rival the adventures of them all.

The first direct detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two massive black holes, more than a billion  light years from the Earth, became a global media phenomenon when it was announced in February 2016. This remarkable discovery was made by two giant interferometers known as Advanced LIGO, the most sensitive scientific instruments ever built. It vindicated Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and has been widely hailed as one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the Century. The human story of how we discovered gravitational waves also stretches far across both space and time. First, it reaches back one hundred years to Einstein’s pioneering prediction of these tiny ripples in the fabric of the Cosmos – which he believed were too elusive ever to be detected – and since then across many decades of ingenuity and determination as – one by one – the huge technological barriers to making such an insanely difficult measurement were overcome. The discovery, and the research that made it possible, also spans the globe – the result of a worldwide collaboration featuring thousands of scientists in dozens of countries. In this sense, it represents a triumph for the vision and commitment of funding agencies to invest long-term in a project so challenging that many were sure it would never succeed.

This cosmic detective story has its own strong Scottish connections – from the origins of the LIGO project to the scientists now leading the design and operation of Advanced LIGO and shaping the future of this exciting new field. And here we tell the tale of Scotland’s place in the discovery of gravitational waves by highlighting the contributions of some of the players involved.

The achievements of the LIGO team have been recognised with many international awards and prizes – including the award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s President’s Medal to the Scottish academics who shared in the discovery, most of whom are profiled in this special issue. The President's Medal was also awarded to Dr Iain Martin (University of Glasgow), the late Dr Gavin Newton (University of Glasgow), Professor Nicholas Lockerbie (University of Strathclyde) and Dr Jonathan Gair (University of Edinburgh). In addition, Dr Angus Bell and Mr Russell Jones (both University of Glasgow) shared with the rest of the LIGO engineering team the 2016 Paul F. Foreman Team Engineering Excellence Award of the Optical Society of America. The LIGO project also benefits from major contributions by numerous students and other research staff, who also share the international prizes.

In Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men Sherlock Holmes states that “What one man can invent another can discover”. Our tale is one of astonishing invention that led to remarkable discovery. Let the story begin!

Martin Hendry MBE FInstP FRAS FRSE is Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow, where he is currently also Head of School. His main research interests are in the analysis of astronomical surveys, including the development of optimal methods for ‘multi-messenger’ astronomy, combining data from both electromagnetic telescopes and gravitational-wave observatories. He is a passionate advocate for education and public outreach and currently chairs the EPO Group of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. In 2015, he was awarded the MBE for his services to the public understanding of science.


"Foreword by Martin Hendry". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty)
Printed from on 07/04/20 06:38:47 PM

Science Scotland is a science & technology publication brought to you by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (