For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos. Gravitational waves carry unique information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the mergers of two black holes but also during the last hundred seconds of the collision of two neutron stars. The latter is the first ever cosmic event to be observed both in gravitational waves and in electromagnetic waves, shedding light on several long-standing puzzles, like the production of gold in nature and the physics origins of brief gamma-ray flashes. I will review the beginnings of this exciting field of cosmic exploration and the unprecedented technology and engineering that made it possible.
Vicky Kalogera is the lead astrophysicist in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), LIGO being the telescopes that first detected gravitational waves in 2015. She is an expert in the astrophysics of black holes and neutron stars and in LIGO data analysis, and has been a member of the LSC for more than 15 years. Kalogera's astrophysics research involves methods from applied mathematics, statistics and computer science, with extensive use of high-performance computing. Kalogera also studies the formation and evolution of stars and their remnants detectable as gamma-ray, X-ray, and radio pulsar sources in the electromagnetic spectrum in a wide range of stellar environments. Kalogera was recently awarded the 2018 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics by the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society.