Nanometrics Trillium 240 seismometer helps LIGO detect gravitational waves

Nanometrics’ Trillium seismometer technology was an important component in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) installations that detected gravitational waves for the first time ever. Scientists announced this major scientific achievement yesterday, noting that the first gravitational waves seen at the twin LIGO installations, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, were recorded September 14th, 2015, having been detected independently 7 milliseconds apart.

This story begins 1.3 billion years ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Two black holes that had been spinning around each other in a gradually decaying orbit finally collided, converting enormous mass into energy radiated out as gravitational waves. The wave has been spreading out since then, finally reaching us last year. Nobody would have noticed it, except that back in 1992 the LIGO project was launched to set up observatories with 4 km long L-shaped laser interferometers operating in a near-perfect vacuum. These weren't sensitive enough but "Advanced LIGO" was developed to upgrade the capabilities and it went online just six weeks before this first event was detected.

LIGO vacuum pod containing Trillium 240 broadband seismometerTrillium 240 very broadband seismometer used for LIGO gravitational wave discovery

LIGO researchers approached Nanometrics in March 2008, needing highly sensitive broadband seismometers that could measure the ever-present vibrations of the earth, so they could subtract the vibration effects out of the interferometer to help unmask fainter signals that would otherwise be drowned out.  Nanometrics worked with LIGO to qualify and develop a custom version of the Trillium 240 broadband seismometer designed originally for measuring distant earthquakes. LIGO had a specialized list of requirements for this seismometer.  It had to be suitable for deploying inside the huge vacuum chamber, and so needed to be as small as possible. It had to be extremely reliable and never need servicing, as a failure could mean months of downtime as the vacuum in the huge LIGO chamber was lost and then pumped back down again. LIGO also needed 50 seismometers delivered by early 2010. LIGO ultimately selected the Trillium 240 seismometer to instrument their vacuum chambers, not only because of the good performance shown in early tests at Stanford, but also for their proven history of reliability in the field.

"More specifically, the fifteen Trillium 240 seismometers in each observatory help keep the LIGO mirrors and lasers from being disturbed by vibrations. The seismometers measure the most minuscule ground motion, and other LIGO equipment feeds these signals back to help stabilize the detectors.  It is a similar concept to noise-cancelling headphones that pick up room noise and create a reverse signal into your ear to make it quieter," explains Bruce Townsend, VP of Products, Nanometrics, "This makes it possible for the scientists to measure the extremely tiny motions due to gravitational waves."

When asked about the importance of the role the Trillium 240 seismometer played, Dr. Brian Lantz, Senior Research Scientist, Stanford University (LIGO) stated, "They are in vacuum in the instrument. They are a critical piece of the active seismic isolation we use. And they were (and still are) great!"

"We are thrilled that the Trillium 240 seismometer has played a role in enabling this significant scientific discovery," said Neil Spriggs, CEO, Nanometrics, "and we are proud of the contribution Nanometrics made to help enable the LIGO success."

For more information, go to: LIGO
See LIGO Press Release

About Nanometrics, Inc:

Nanometrics is dedicated to providing an open and honest scientific approach to Induced Seismicity Monitoring that has been honed by over 30 years of experience developing innovative seismic technology. 

Nanometrics has designed and deployed real-time seismological networks on every continent and in every climate.  As the world leader in seismological networks, Nanometrics offers expertise in event detection, event location, magnitude calculation, real-time data transmission and processing, rapid event notification, and seismic emission tomography (SET).  Utilizing proprietary broadband node instrumentation and networking technology, the team at Nanometrics provides customized networks to facilitate real-time induced seismicity monitoring, hydraulic fracture monitoring and wastewater monitoring services.

Nanometrics is an award winning company providing monitoring solutions and equipment for studying man-made and natural seismicity. Headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, with offices and representatives world-wide, Nanometrics has over 30 years’ experience, delivering solutions to customers across the globe. Nanometrics real-time and portable systems are utilized by the world’s leading scientific institutions, universities and major corporations. Our pedigree is founded on precision instrumentation, network technology and software applications for seismological and environmental research. We specialize in collecting and analyzing critical real time data for global, regional and local seismic networks. We deliver world-class network design, installation and training services throughout the globe in a safety conscious environment.

Strategic Intelligence fueled by Science

For more information, contact: Mairi Miller, Marketing Manager, Nanometrics Inc.  I  I  +613-592-6776 ext. 288


Feb 12, 2016

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