American Physical Society

Gabriela Gonzalez - Professor

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Job Info

Employer:
Louisiana State University - LSU

Position Type:
Education
Research

Job skills:
Complex problem solving
Synthesizing information
Mathematical skills
Lab or instrumentation skills
Knowledge of physics principles
Data analysis
Communication
Team work

Gabriela Gonzalez's Job:
Gabriela works in the department of Physics and Astronomy at LSU, as a professor and member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. LSU is only 30 miles away from the LIGO Livingston Observatory, which is one of three gravitational wave detectors supported by the LIGO project.

These gravitational wave detectors are actually huge versions of a simple device known as a Michelson Interferometer: a beam of laser light is split, and each piece travels down two long perpendicular tunnels. At the ends of the tunnels the beams are reflected back to the same point, where they interfere.Gravitational waves passing through the observatory would cause very small shifts in the length of one of the hallways, causing the interference pattern of the two laser beams to change. Observing such a change would constitute evidence of gravitational waves.

As a member of the LIGO project team, Gabriela's research specifically involves the characterization of noise, calibration of the detectors, and data analysis. The goal of her work is to search for waves produced by binary systems of compact stars (black holes and neutron stars) which spin madly around one another before coalescing into a single black hole. Events such as these are what generate intense gravitational wave patterns, which then travel through the universe, creating subtle changes in lengths between objects.

"These ripples...were predicted by Einstein almost a century ago,  but have never been directly observed yet, " says Gabriela,  "but the LIGO detectors now being built should be able to detect many events per year." Gabriela says that the many observations that LIGO is expected to yield will bring us pristine information about black holes: "we'll have a completely new kind of telescope to tell us about the life and death of stars."

My Previous Jobs:
After receiving her "Licienciatura" (similar to an MS) from the University of Cordoba in 1988, Gabriela moved to Syracuse University to get her PhD working on Brownian Motion of a Torsion Pendulum (a way to predict thermal noise, which is necessary when working on gravitational waves since thermal noise could "drown out" the wave's signal, which is small).

After graduating from Syracuse, Gabriela went to work with the MIT-LIGO group as a staff scientist.Gabriela joined the faculty of Penn State in 1997, and the faculty of Lousiana State University in 2001.

Career Facts

Employer Type:
School/Academia

Current Location:
Baton Rouge, LA

Physics Degree:
Doctorate

Educational Information

MS - Physics,  University of Cordoba,  Argentina
PhD - Physics and Astronomy,  Syracuse University

More about Gabriela Gonzalez

Gabriela Gonzalez's other interests:
In addition to unlocking the mysteries of the universe, Gabriela also takes a little time off to experiment with cooking different kinds of ethnic food (including Cajun cooking, which Gabriela says has not always been successful). She also enjoys knitting complicated patterns.

Gabriela is also married to Jorge Pullin, who is also Professor of Physics at LSU. You can find Jorge's profile in our database at:  http://www.compadre.org/careers/physicists/Detail.cfm?id=2338

Gabriela Gonzalez's home page:
http://www.phys.lsu.edu/faculty/gonzalez/

Gabriela Gonzalez

Biography:

Born in Argentina,  Gabriela first wanted to be a Math teacher, like her mother ("I still love teaching!" she says). However when she took her first physics classes in her junior and senior years of high school, she realized that Physics was for her: "I was amazed at how we could "explain" the world with Physics, and we could predict what objects would do. When I found out this also applied to stars and the Universe, and that there were unknown phenomena waiting to be discovered, I decided I couldn't do anything else!"

In her work at LIGO, Gabriela is doing just that:creating detectors which will allow us to observe phenomena which cannot be directly observed--such as neutron stars coalescing into one black hole. These violent events create signatures in the form of gravitational waves. Observing these will tell us more about the life and death of these mysterious objects.

Obviously, Gabriela's Physics training is essential to her work at LIGO. However, the concepts aren't the only useful things she has learned.

"The best lesson from [my training] was learning to ask questions--always ask 'Why?!'"  

Gabriela also said that learning how to get help from experts, staying abreast of the newest developments in your area, and learning how to collaborate with colleagues are also very important skills.

"I think these skills are very useful for any career in academia, industry or even life, they were certainly very useful for my progress, " she says.