Beyond Einstein: The Search for Gravitational Waves LIGO, LISA and Lasers


Date Thursday July 29th 2004
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium

PARC Forum

Einstein formulated the general theory of relativity nearly 100 years ago and showed that gravity is curvature in space-time and further that ripples in space-time, gravitational waves, travel at the speed of light. Today the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, LIGO, project is using ground based 4km long interferometers to search for gravitational waves. The progress for LIGO and other earth based gravitational wave interferometers will be reviewed.

Last week the Laser Interferometer in Space Antenna, LISA, a joint project between NASA and ESA, held its 5th international meeting. Discussions considered the design of the space-based 5 million kilometer long LISA interferometer, its sensitivity and the gravitational wave sources that are to be observed. LISA, the first great observatory in the NASA Beyond Einstein program, is scheduled for launch in 2013.

The detection of gravitational waves requires the ultimate in precision measurement. The ‘ruler’ used to detect oscillations in space-time is the constant; the speed of light. The light source is a very stable Nd:YAG solid state laser that is pumped by laser diode arrays invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1978.


Professor Robert L. Byer has conducted research and taught classes in lasers and nonlinear optics at Stanford University since 1969. He has made numerous contributions to laser science and technology including the demonstration of the first tunable visible parametric oscillator, the development of the Q-switched unstable resonator Nd:YAG laser, remote sensing using tunable infrared sources and precision spectroscopy using Coherent Anti Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS). Current research includes the development of nonlinear optical materials and laser diode pumped solid state laser sources for applications to gravitational wave detection and to laser particle acceleration.

Professor Byer is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Laser Institute of America. In 1985 Professor Byer served as president of the IEEE Lasers and Electro-optics Society. He was elected President of the Optical Society of America and served in 1994. He is a founding member of the California Council on Science and Technology and is serving as chair from 1995 - 1999. He has served on the Engineering Advisory Board of the National Science Foundation. He was Chair of the Applied Physics Department from 1981 to 1984; Associate Dean of Humanities and Sciences from 1985 to 1987, and served as Vice Provost and Dean of Research at Stanford University from 1987 through 1992. He is currently the director of the Center for Nonlinear Optical Materials at Stanford and the Director of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford, and chair, Department of Applied Physics.

In 1996 Professor Byer received the Quantum Electronics Award from the Lasers and Electro-optics Society of the IEEE. In 1998 he received the R. W. Wood prize of the Optical Society of America and the A. L. Schawlow Award from the Laser Institute of America. In 2000 he was the recipient of the IEEE Third Millenium Medal.

Professor Byer has published more than 400 scientific papers and holds 40 patents in the fields of lasers and nonlinear optics. Professor Byer was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1987 and to the National Academy of Science in 2000.

Additional information

Focus Areas

Our work is centered around a series of Focus Areas that we believe are the future of science and technology.

Licensing & Commercialization Opportunities

We’re continually developing new technologies, many of which are available for¬†Commercialization.


PARC scientists and staffers are active members and contributors to the science and technology communities.