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Global get-together of gravitational geeks converges at SFU in wake of discovery

International conference on 'testing gravity' — galvanized by the first-ever observed gravitational waves, long theorized — begins in Vancouver.

The silhouette of a scientist against a visualisation of gravitational waves pictured during a press conference at the Leibniz University in Germany in February 2016, following the waves' historic discovery.

Contributed/Julian Stratenschulte/EPA

The silhouette of a scientist against a visualisation of gravitational waves pictured during a press conference at the Leibniz University in Germany in February 2016, following the waves' historic discovery.

Last year’s historic discovery of the first-ever recorded gravitational waves sent ripples through the scientific community.

And this week, those intellectual waves are rippling to B.C., with some of the world’s top cosmologists, astronomers and other researchers converging on Simon Fraser University starting Wednesday.

“Some are astronomers dealing with things like dark energy and thinking about how the universe works,” explained conference co-chair SFU cosmologist Levon Pogosian in a phone interview. “Others work in a laboratories balancing neutrons, tiny subatomic particles, to check if their gravity is the same as Einstein’s gravity (theory).

“They’re testing gravity on completely different scales, from the tiniest possible to the largest. But these people don’t normally talk to each other, so the aim is to stimulate dialogue between the top people in their respective disciplines — and hopefully spark new ideas.”

Next year marks the 125th anniversary of the first theory that gravity could travel in wave form through space. But it was Albert Einstein, 100 years ago, who revolutionized the field with his prediction and theory of gravitational waves.

It wasn’t until last year, however, that more than a decade of research by “highly sophisticated” facilities in Louisiana and Washington state finally paid off, Pogosian said — proving that the waves exist for the first time. And most importantly, clearing a final hurdle for proving Einstein's general theory of relativity.

“Einstein predicted that gravity works in a way that everything that has mass or energy would cause a distortion in the space time — it’s like causing a bend in space-time,” he explained. “He predicted that if you had an object shaking or moving, it would cause waves in the fabric of space-time, that would be like shaking the surface of water and ripples appear like waves … 100 years after his prediction, they were finally observed.”

The Testing Gravity Conference runs at SFU Harbour Centre until Saturday.

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