From March to June 2018 Sebastian (postdoc), Alexei (PhD student), and Daniel (postdoc) from the OzGrav team at the University of Adelaide travelled to the USA to attend the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration (LVC) meeting along with further trips to LIGO Hanford and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
One of Daniel’s main research topics is the creation of numerical simulation software, called
Finesse, which is used for understanding the complex optical interferometers that are at the core of gravitational wave detectors; we use this for design and commissioning work.
Sebastian's main research focus is 2µm fiber laser development which is one of the core research topics for OzGrav instrumentation. His research is in the development of lasers for the third generation of gravitational wave detectors. Sebastian spent time during the LVC engaging with research groups focussed on the current and future laser systems. Following the LVC he travelled south to Pasadena to visit the Caltech arm of LIGO Lab. This gave him an opportunity to examine the material and detector technologies being developed for the future detectors. While there he helped design the optical layout for the signal recycling heater and characterise the CO2 laser.
After this Sebastian joined Alexei and Daniel in Hanford and participated in the mode matching of the 70W upgrade to the prestabilised laser and helped with the implementation of the CO2 laser heater.
Arriving at the LIGO site at first is nothing short of daunting. Usually we work on small table-top optics experiments. The physical size of the LIGO experiment always blows me away, from the size of the vacuum chambers to the arms that shoot out into the desert.
The team at LIGO was amazing; their patience in teaching us how it all works and trust in us to let us work on the experiment really made the trip.
During our time there we all worked on several parts. First, we helped design and construct the new prototype adaptive optic system. This system uses a CO2 laser to heat the signal
recycling mirror to induce a small lens on its surface. This then shapes the beam exiting
the interferometer and will be used to better shape it for extracting the signal. This involved a lot of plumbing work (getting covered in aged coolant left in old pipes...) and aligning the CO2 laser into the vacuum chamber to correctly deform the mirror.
Alexei also looked into how we can better interpret cavity mode scans to infer the correct way to shape the laser beam. From this we found that we can actually extract more information than we expected previously, such as the astigmatism of the beam. Using this knowledge he wrote a new commissioning tool for analysing the output mode cleaner scans in a more automated and easier to use fashion.
We also helped in mode matching the squeezer beam to the interferometer and develop better Finesse models of the output path. Before we left we then also helped test the new Hartmann sensor system for sensing the deformations in the end test mass mirrors, something that previously had not worked optimally.