Throughout her presentation, Levin displayed a number of scientific models and images to help the audience understand the complexity of black holes. Among the most intriguing was an audio clip of two black holes orbiting one another, recorded by a four-kilometer-long Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) device created by American physicist Rainer Weiss. After spending one billion dollars and fifteen years with no luck at the observatory, years of research paid off when Weiss and his team recorded a one-fifth-of-a-second-long “woosh” noise generated by black holes.
“It was the most powerful event detected since the big bang itself,” Levin said of the sound. “More power in that little chirp than all the power of all the stars in the observable universe combined.”
Levin concluded her lecture by showing the first photograph of a black hole, taken on April 10, 2019. Coincidentally, one of the eight telescopes around the world that photographed the black hole includes the Large Millimeter Telescope, a cooperation jointly operated by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica.
In her closing remarks, Levin touched on the fate of reality regarding black holes.
“We all live under that big black hole in the center of the galaxy,” Levin said. “We’re all ultimately fated to fall into that big black hole, it’s our future. It’s just a reminder from a cosmic perspective of what human beings can do when they share out of simple curiosity.”
The event attracted many students from all kinds of majors. Leah Demers, a freshman communications major, described the event as informative for students who are not studying astronomy.
“I thought it was really fascinating,” Demers said. “I’ve never taken a class that focuses on this kind of material, so it was interesting to learn a lot more about black holes than I would have in the past. I got a lot out of it.”
Andrew Sood, a freshman finance major, compared the event to literature he’s read in the past.
“It was very humbling to see how small we are,” Sood said. “I read this book in physics a few years ago called The Jazz of Physics [about] how jazz musicians inadvertently mirror the phenomena of outer space. The connection between sound and space really piqued my interest.”
Paul and Catherine Williamson, both alumni of the Commonwealth Honors College, have endowed the Williamson Lecture for the past nineteen years. Paul, a former physician, currently works as an entrepreneur in product development and life sciences, often meeting with biomedical engineers.
“We support the program to give UMass students exposure to speakers, ideas, and concepts that they may not be exposed to on the campus,” Mr. Williamson said. “We enjoy giving back to the university that changed our lives.”
Be on the lookout for the next Williamson Lecture and other intriguing Commonwealth Honors College events on our website. We look forward to seeing you there!