Reception marks Drever Scholarship and donation to The Hunterian

Published on: Author: Harriet Gaston Leave a comment

A staff post by Dr Nicky Reeves, Curator of Scientific Instruments at The Hunterian.

Two rows of human adults and children, back row standing, front row sitting, dressed smartly, with a vintage polyethylene jar, surrounded by metal coils having the appearance of a woven basket, on a small table in front of the sitting row, in a formal drawing room interior.
Members of the Drever family, Dr Harry Ward, Professor Sheila Rowan and Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli with Ronald Drever’s anisotropy of inertia experiment, now Hunterian GLAHM 151079.

On Monday, February 12, 2018 The Hunterian was delighted to attend a reception hosted by The Principal to acknowledge the bequest to the School of Physics and Astronomy of £500,000 from the estate of Professor Ronald Drever to fund a scholarship in his name. Professor Drever (1931-2017) was a graduate of the University who played a key role in the establishment of gravitational wave research at Glasgow, before moving to the United States in the early 1980s, where he was a co-founder of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project. Professor Drever’s work helped lay some of the foundations for the LIGO collaboration’s first direct detection of gravitational waves, predicted a century earlier by Einstein, and announced to the world in January 2016 in a paper entitled Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) made major contributions to the first and subsequent detections by the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration, designing and building the mirror suspensions at the heart of the detector and undertaking leadership roles in the massive data analysis which underpin each detection. The University of Glasgow anticipates that the new Professor Ronald Drever Scholarship in Physics and Astronomy will fund one postgraduate position at the IGR each year in perpetuity. Professor Drever, and his collaborators received a number of awards in 2016, and Drever’s own medals and awards have been kindly donated to The Hunterian by his family, where they have been catalogued and stored in our new Hunterian Collections Study Centre at Kelvin Hall. These consist of the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, The Shaw Prize in Astronomy, The Gruber Prize in Cosmology, The Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, and the Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award: Physical Sciences.

Hunterian staff attended the reception where Professor Drever’s awards were on display, and took this as an opportunity to take out of storage a seldom seen scientific instrument from The Hunterian’s collection, Drever’s own resolutely home-made device for attempting to detect the “anisotropy of inertia“, an experiment undertaken in the garden of the Drever family home in Bishopton in the late 1950s. Remarkably, this unprepossessing assemblage of a polyethylene bottle filled with a solution of lithium nitrate, surrounded by a very long coil of hand-wound wire, was an attempt, when an electric current was passed through the coil, to measure a galactic-scale phenomenon. What is also remarkable is that this device survives in a museum collection: so often the hardware and instruments of scientific research are discarded, or broken down and reused and recycled in new experimental set-ups, or are subsequently lost, or are simply not recognised when discovered on a shelf at a later time and discarded. We are very grateful for the earlier donation of this item, and were delighted to be able to bring it out of storage to show it to both the Drever family and appreciative current members of the IGR.

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