Einstein Was Right! Gravitational Waves Detected

 Swarthmore Professor Explains
Significance to Science and Man

The report was stunning, even if the event took place a billion years ago when two black holes collided. News of the crash just reached Earth, in the form of gravitational waves which were detected last September by scientists working with the U.S.-led Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory — LIGO.

The discovery was announced this month by joyous researchers, who shared audio transcriptions of a “chirp” picked up on the massive antennae at LIGO stations in Louisiana and Washington state. The chirp was emitted as gravitational waves [GW] produced by the quickening mutual orbit of this pair of black holes during the one-quarter of a second just before and as they converged. The waves generated during that period were within a frequency range (35 – 250 cycles per second) detectable by the antennae as they reached and passed through Earth.

Thinkers about science have called this one of the greatest discoveries of the past century, and as fate would have it, the discovery was made almost exactly 100 years after Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, which predicted the existence of GW, and through later inference by others, black holes.

Tristan Smith

Tristan Smith, assistant professor of physics at Swarthmore College, greeted the news with joy. “My work involves gravitational waves, as well as other areas of space physics from a fraction of a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.” He took time this week to explain and interpret the meaning of this momentous discovery.

Question: What are black holes?

Black holes are regions of space where the gravity is so large that light itself can’t escape. They’re a basic prediction of Einstein’s theory of gravity. It’s true that there were aspects and consequences of his theory where he and other scientists of the 20th century felt that black holes might be just a mathematical result, but not actually existing in the real world. The same with GW — there were several papers where he tried to show that they existed, or that they didn’t exist… This discovery confirms, for the first time, that GW do exist and provides further and more direct evidence that black holes exist.

Q: How many black holes are there?

There’s evidence that black holes exist at the center of all galaxies, and there are 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That includes the Milky Way, the galaxy that we live in. There are really beautiful movies that show stars orbiting an invisible object in the Milky Way. You can use the shape of their orbits to figure out that the gravity that is pulling them is of a mass 4 million times the mass of our sun. That’s a huge black hole.

Q: So are black holes holding the galaxies together?

Even though black holes are very massive, the galaxies themselves are much more massive. It’s not clear how much black holes affect the galaxies. They come in different sizes. The black holes that were indirectly seen through these GW, their masses are much less than the black holes at the centers of galaxies. These were about 30 times the mass of our sun.

Q: What led these relatively small black holes to collide?

How did they find each other? Why were they even close to each other? One of the exciting things is we’re trying to figure out why the BH formed in this binary system. The best guess now is that both of them started out as massive stars in a binary system, formed out of the same cloud of gas and dust. If stars are massive enough, the end stage of their lives is to become black holes. They’re close to one another; they’ve both survived these violent explosive deaths of stars… it’s very romantic and monogamous.

Q: There must have been great belief in the GW theory to justify building this observatory. Was LIGO funded by taxpayer dollars?

Yes, the main form of funding is the National Science Foundation, which is taxpayer funded. It’s a testament to the kind of risk-taking that’s necessary to have a breakthrough in technological and intellectual boundaries that define us as human beings. It’s really a huge success story of many people at all levels of government and academia coming together, having a vision, and seeing it through to the end… actually, to the beginning!

Q: Why are GW so important?

My focus has been on GW from a fraction of a fraction of a second after the big bang. We can’t get information from that epoch in any other way besides GW.

Q: Why are GW such good messengers of this information?

Let’s say you are on one side of a wall and I am on another. Light that I produce will not get through that wall, but if I drop something, you can hear the sound. The universe is transparent to GW; they pass through everything nearly unaffected, which is also why they’re so hard to detect. It happens that these GW’ frequencies are in the audible range, so we can actually listen to them. Up until about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe was opaque to light. We can never get any light from that era, but we can get GW all the way back.

Q: Was LIGO oriented to scan a certain part of the sky?

No, the antennae are pretty omnidirectional. The two colliding black holes just happened to be the ones that were detected. In fact, the researchers had turned the instrument on for engineering analysis a day or two before; they didn’t expect to see GW at a particular time. Since the events that produce GW produce very little light, there is no way to anticipate their arrival.

Q: How frequently can we now expect to be able to detect GW?

Now that we’ve actually seen a GW, the expectation is a few times per year. If all works the way we expect it to, LIGO should soon announce more.

Q: How should this momentous discovery change the way laymen think about the universe?

I think this should change how we all think about the universe in several ways. We usually think of space and time as static and inert. GW are at their core challenging that relationship with space and time. Space itself is rippling and wrinkling and changing and propagating. Two ancient, distant black holes colliding and their waves washing over the earth, that’s pretty profound. And this detection that we are celebrating is the first direct evidence that black holes – this exotic region of the universe from which light cannot escape — exist and they behave the way Einstein predicted they should. We can now say that the universe has these extreme objects, and that, for me, just fuels imagination and creativity across the board.

Larry Luder Honored by Borough Council

2-26Larry Luder and Tim Kearney

At a Borough Council meeting earlier this month, Mayor Tim Kearney (l.) presented the Borough’s Volunteer Service Award to Larry Luder, recognizing “literally a lifetime of service” by Larry to the Swarthmore Fire and Protective Association. Larry joined the fire company as a teenager, 48 years ago, and served as its president for 36 years. Photos by Art Kalemkarian


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WSSD Board Catches Up on Social Media

Welcomes New Superintendent

By Katie Crawford

The focus topic of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board meeting on Monday night was social media and district communications. Deirdre Abrahamsson, communications consultant to the district, described for the board the types of social media the district employs, and the purpose of each medium.

Abrahamsson began working for the district in 2013. During the past two and half years, the district’s online presence has increased substantially. In addition to continually updating the district website, Abrahamsson oversees the district’s Twitter feed, which currently has 857 followers. Twitter, which distributes short messages, photos, videos, and links, is the most practical medium for sports updates and highlights.

During the past two and half years, the district’s Facebook page has registered 2,400 “likes.” Abrahamsson described Facebook as the place to share up-to-date information on school and extracurricular activity, as well as the best venue to promote events. Facebook also allows the district to gather information about the types of people viewing their page (mostly women) and the time of day when there is the most traffic (evenings). Abrahamsson described the opportunity to “tell the district’s story” as, “an awesome experience,” highlighting the abundance of academic, athletic, and performance opportunities available to students.

Dr. Palmer Unanimously Approved

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Dr. Lisa Palmer

The resolution to approve Dr. Lisa Palmer as the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District Superintendent was enthusiastically and unanimously approved. In her remarks Dr. Palmer thanked the board “from the bottom of my heart, for the privilege of serving the staff, the students, the community and the board.”

During the superintendent’s report, Dr. Michael Pladus, anticipating the approval of the new superintendent, thanked the board for the privilege of working with them for the past seven months. Dr. Pladus also noted that there is still no 2015-2016 budget from the state and that this stalemate is going to create cash flow problems for many districts.

Dr. Pladus also thanked former board member Mary Gay Scanlon for her work on the discipline code, noting that there were no major changes, just better articulation of the current policy. Later in the meeting the board did indeed approve the revised Code of Conduct/Discipline Code.

Wrestlers Take Down 3rd Place in Sectionals

Dr. Robert Reiger commended the high school wrestling team members and coaches, who made their best showing in years, taking third place in sectionals. Eight wrestlers from the team will be competing in the district tournament.

Highlights from student representative Charlotte Brake’s report on district schools included: a visit from Swarthmore author Judith Schachner to Wallingford Elementary School; Swarthmore Rutledge School’s living wax museum celebrating Black History month; the first ever STEM night at Nether Providence Elementary School; the upcoming performance of Tarzan at Strath Haven Middle School; and the ongoing performance of Rent at Strath Haven High School.

Special guest Kevin Yin from Rose Valley Troop 272 attended the meeting as part of his efforts to receive his merit badge for citizenship and community. Kevin led the board in the Pledge of Allegiance and adjourned the meeting by expertly banging the gavel.

Swarthmorean History Contest

Find the historic Swarthmorean story, photo or ad in this edition, and help us unlock a historical treasure trove. The winner gets a Swarthmore Historical Society t-shirt. All ages are welcome!

1. Identify the item that came from a Swarthmorean of bygone times.
2. Estimate its original date and tell us how you know.
3. E-mail your answer, your name, and address by 5 p.m. Friday, March 4, to editor@swarthmorean.com.

We’ll draw one entry from among all correct answers, and the winner will be announced in the March 11 issue. All correct entries, along with an image of the original historic Swarthmorean issue, will be posted at swarthmorean.com.

Once Upon a Mattress at Ohev Shalom

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Matt Prince and Maria Benedetti, both of Media, star in Ohev Shalom’s performance of Once Upon a Mattress.

Congregation Ohev Shalom will present the classic musical Once Upon a Mattress for four performances over the first two March weekends.

The Princess and the Pea is retold as a fairy tale for the modern age, with marvelous songs, romance, and humor high and low in the play written by Mary Rodgers, Marshall Barer, Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller.

Performances are Fridays, March 5 and 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, March 6 and 13, at 2 p.m. The show is appropriate for adults and school-aged children; tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children under 12, available online at ohev.net/once-upon-a-mattress and tickets@ohev.net.

Congregation Ohev Shalom is located at 2 N. Chester Road, in Wallingford.

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Ethan Starr of Swarthmore and Emily Fishman of Wallingford star in Ohev Shalom’s performance of Once Upon a Mattress.

Arts4Smarts Soiree

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The fifth annual Arts4Smarts soiree is planned for Saturday, March 5, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Upper Tarble, Clothier Hall on the Swarthmore College campus. Festive food, drink, music and lively conversation are on the menu; tickets ($25 in advance; $30 at the door) are now available online at www.arts4smarts.org, along with descriptions of silent auction items up for bid in the major fundraiser for the Foundation for Wallingford-Swarthmore Schools. About 200 guests raised $25,000 in 2015 for the Foundation, helping fund its major projects initiative and teacher grants.

Briefly Noted…

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Co-op general manager Ed Farace presented lucky winner Marita Evangelista with her iPad.

Swarthmore Co-op shopper Marita Evangelista of Swarthmore won a new iPad in a random drawing of members and shoppers who participated in the Co-op’s recent online survey. More than 500 Co-op members and frequent shoppers from Swarthmore, Wallingford, Media, and surrounding areas responded to the survey, sharing their experiences, opinions, needs, and preferences as part of the Co-op’s “visioning” project. “We’re a community market and need this level of input to succeed,” said Ed Farace, the Co-op’s new general manager, who presented the iPad to Marita.

Eileen Snell Morrissey of Rutledge is the featured artist on display at the Regency Cafe in Lansdowne, 29 N. Lansdowne Avenue, from now through April 22. She is accomplished in media including oil painting, sculpture, pottery, photography, Illustration, and digital art. Eileen has studied at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford and is a member of the Media Arts Council.

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Dr. Virginia Brabender

Dr. Virginia Brabender of Swarthmore, a professor in the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University, recently co-edited the Handbook of Gender and Sexuality in Psychological Assessment, which seeks to provide a more detailed understanding of how gender and sexuality shape experiences. Dr. Brabender says that the book, which she co-edited with Joni Mihura of the University of Toledo, “serves as a guideline to help increase the skill set of assessors in the realm of gender and sexuality so they can provide proper interventions.”

In his major exhibit in the upcoming Philadelphia Flower Show, garden designer Michael Petrie of Swarthmore’s Handmade Gardens will include a Tiny House designed and built by Tim Kearney (also mayor of Swarthmore) and Claudio Cueto, who are principals of CuetoKearney design architects of Swarthmore. Exhibitors in the March 5-13 Flower Show, themed “Explore America,” were asked to create a landscape celebrating a national park. Petrie chose Olympic National Park in Washington State; his exhibit “Tiny Park” showcases a West Coast-style modern small-footprint office/residence that serves as a park ranger’s station.

If you’re a political junkie, Super Tuesday — Tuesday, March 1 _ is circled in red on your calendar. To watch the results come in from the Presidential primaries in 14 U.S. states, you can join with others of your ilk at a watch party/rally co-chaired by Lin Axamethy Floyd of Wallingford and hosted by the Media Democratic Committee, at the Sterling Pig Brewery, 609 State Street in Media. Democratic committee chairs Christine Reuther of Wallingford and Colleen Guiney of Swarthmore invite all neighbors to join them there, regardless of party affiliation. Tickets and info: (610) 563-6376.

Young Pianists Hit High Notes in Performances

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Three students of Swarthmore piano teacher Donna Kay Jones (standing) performed recently in a national audition for two gala recitals, sponsored by the Philadelphia Music Teachers Association (PMTA) in celebration of its 125th anniversary. All were recognized for their technique and interpretation of the pieces they played.

“They played wonderfully,” said their proud teacher. Emma Lee of Swarthmore (seated, center) was chosen to participate in a recital at Carnegie Hall on April 9.; she will play Nocturne Opus 33 by Samuel Barber. Lauren Park (left) and Cece Olszewski (right) of Wallingford were selected to an honors recital, which was held on February 21 at Temple University’s Rock Hall. Lauren played Chopin’s Mazurka, Opus 17, no. 4; Cece performed “Valse in the Manner of Borodin” by Ravel.

Donna Kay Jones, who has played piano “almost since birth,” trained in the School of Music at the University of Southern California, and teaches selected students in her home studio on Haverford Avenue. She has previously been recognized as PMTA’s district teacher of the year.

From Mozart to Modern

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Photo by Pete Prown

By Pete Prown

Conductor James Freeman is familiar to admirers of Swarthmore College’s resident ensemble Orchestra 2001 (which he founded and served for 27 years as artistic director), but on Sunday, he brought his latest classical venture to Lang Concert Hall, the Chamber Orchestra First Editions. This ensemble serves to contrast the early work of Mozart with edgy contemporary music in a manner that’s both aurally pleasing and educational. In addition to performing full chamber pieces here, Freeman had his musicians play brief sections to highlight facets of each composition — something of a “behind the scenes” glimpse into the writing process.

The 25-piece Chamber Orchestra began with a reading of Mozart’s first symphony, Symphony in E flat major, K.16, composed in 1764 when the Austrian was just eight years old. While we’re used to the bold, jarring sounds of Orchestra 2001, it was a revelation to hear warm, lush sounds of 18th-century European music wafting through this space. A little more volume would have been welcome, but that’s quibbling. The interpretation of this early classical-era work was rapturous, something accentuated by the cathedral-like vista of Crum Woods behind the musicians.

Next Mr. Freeman introduced composers Cynthia Folio and Heidi Jacob, whom he commissioned to write short chamber pieces for the occasion. A professor at Temple University, Ms. Folio based her Pentaprism on a 5-note motif, which she used to develop themes and countermelodies within the music. The composition was fun and zigzagging in rollicking 20th-century style, but then the fine players of the chamber orchestra delivered a middle section that was tense and cinematic, more akin to the twisting Hitchcockian harmonies of film composer Bernard Herrmann. Under Freeman’s baton, Folio balances jagged abstractions with these more melodic passages, and quite elegantly, too.

Heidi Jacob, a professor at Haverford College, debuted Many in One, inspired by a Walt Whitman poem. The piece juxtaposed brief solo performances — such as Miles B. Davis’s double bass melody line — with larger ensemble work by this “collective” of musicians, as she puts it. With Freeman at the helm, the piece was moody and haunting in the dim afternoon light of the concert hall. Its high point came near the end when several 1st and 2nd violinists began tossing melodic phrases back and forth, creating a mesmerizing natural-stereo effect across the stage and out into the audience. It was a clever maneuver that caught listeners off-guard and drew them instantly into the performance.

After intermission, maestro Freeman brought out the acclaimed pianist Charles Abramovic to perform Mozart’s beloved Piano Concerto in E flat major. With his keyboard virtuosity rippling through the air of Lang Hall with superb accompaniment from the musicians (including several students from area colleges), it was hard not to appreciate the larger context of the moment. Not only did the audience enjoy wonderful music, new and old, but it was all presented on a quiet winter afternoon for free. As the lights went up and applause subsided, we were already looking forward to future concerts from the superb Chamber Orchestra First Editions.

NOTE: First Editions will reprise this program in a performance tonight (Friday, February 26) at 7:30 p.m. at Haverford College’s Roberts Hall.

Writer, author, and critic Pete Prown can be reached at greenscene@earthlink.net.

College Hosts April Saul and Several Shows of Her Photos

2-26 AprilSaulInvitation.webPulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist April Saul is the subject of concurrent exhibitions of photographs, in McCabe Library and at the List Gallery in Lang Performing Arts Center at Swarthmore College.

List displays “Camden, NJ: A Spirit Invincible,” selected photos from her ongoing series of residents and communities of that city. At McCabe Library, “Our American Family,” “Kids, Guns and Violence: A Deadly Toll,” and “Between Genders” will be hung in the atrium gallery.

On Wednesday, March 2, at 4:30 p.m., Saul will give a talk about her work at the LPAC Cinema, followed by a reception at 5:30 p.m. in List Gallery.

A closing reception and book signing will be held on Sunday, April 2, at List from 3 to 5 p.m.

Exhibits are free and open to all.