Dr. Gaby Gonzalez, a professor in LSU’s Department of Astronomy and Physics, is playing a key role in unraveling one of the longest-running mysteries in astronomy. Gaby, who moved to Baton Rouge in 2001 to pursue a career at LSU, is the spokesperson and scientific leader for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Scientific Collaboration (LIGO). In 2015, LIGO detectors reported the very first recorded gravitational wave, a ripple in the fabric of space and time resulting from the collision of two black holes. The detection made news around the world.
The Argentina native is one of the speakers for TEDxLSU 2017, which is coming up on March 11. She took a few moments to discuss LIGO’s groundbreaking work and how she arrived in the field of astrophysics.
When you think about what you’ve accomplished so far in your career, do you remember a specific moment that set you on your path?
I became interested in physics during high school because of inspiring teachers, but what set me working in LIGO was a new professor who joined Syracuse University and talked about measuring space-time fluctuations. It sounded incredibly challenging and exciting. I decided to work with him, Peter Saulson, and I’ve been working in LIGO research ever since.
What is a typical day for you like?
I am the scientific leader of the collaboration, so I have to coordinate all of the activities that are done in the collaboration. The science is done in many different working groups and each working group has its leaders, but I coordinate the work of those leaders and overview the work that goes into those groups. I have graduate students and postdocs who work with me on specific LIGO research, and I love the work they do. They are great, and they are the ones doing the hands on work.
How did you meet your husband, who also studies gravity?
I studied physics in college in Córdoba, Argentina, and I met him when I was a junior. He was doing his PhD at another university, but he was coming to my university to do research in gravity. For an undergraduate degree in physics, you need to find a research group and write a thesis, so I was doing my thesis in the gravity group that he was in. Einstein said that gravity and relativity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love, but we proved him wrong.
And you both have gravity-themed license plates?
I got my first sports car when my husband and I were still professors at Penn State. I always loved looking at pictures of sports cars, and I needed a new car so I got a Miata. His license plate was already “Gmunu,” which is the symbol for Einstein’s tensor. He said I needed a gravity license plate too, so I got one that said “GWAVE.” We went that day to get a new one and I’ve kept the same plate since. I still have that plate in my office, but I’ve upgraded to a Louisiana plate and to a BMW Z4.
If you could switch jobs with another TEDxLSU 2017 speaker, who would it be and why?
I’m passionate about communication, so I loved reading about Sandra Parks’ work. She talks about communicating through dance, music and languages, and she also mentions that music and choreography are male-dominated fields. Physics is too. One theory I read years ago was that people associate physics and music with genius, and genius is a male quality. Many people believe women don’t like physics or it’s too difficult for women, but it’s all about location and opportunity.
What has been your favorite thing about living in Baton Rouge?
The greenery. I love driving on scenic roads. To get to LIGO I’ll sometimes take Highways 42 and 63 instead of getting on I-12. It’s a very winding road, and you get to cross the river. It’s absolutely beautiful. My husband and I also like driving around Highland Road, especially during March and April.
What is one thing you do every day that might surprise someone?
In 2008 I was in a car accident and I had to be in bed, couldn’t move much. I love logic puzzles in general, and by chance I found this site called griddlers.net and I loved it. I have to admit I’ve become obsessed with it. I’m in the top 5 percent of their players according to their statistics. When I do griddlers, I can’t think about anything else. It’s a good way to keep my mind away from other things.
To learn more about Gaby or about TEDxLSU 2017, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram<. Reserve your seat now to experience Gaby’s talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2017 speakers.