Beyond the Lab: The Role of Experimental and Theoretical Physicists in the Site Selection of the LIGO

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EST (UTC -5)


Still image from a simulation of a heavy black-hole merger

Still image from a simulation of a heavy black-hole merger.

LIGO Lab. N. Fischer, H. Pfeiffer, A. Buonanno (Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics), Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes Collaboration

Attorney and Harvard PhD candidate Tiffany Nichols presents this week’s Lunchtime Lecture about the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

The image of a physicist is generally one of someone in deep thought at a chalkboard or laboring away in their lab. This talk will explore the numerous roles that physicists—both theorists and experimentalists—must fill in order to launch and run their research endeavors that do not fall within the stereotypical images of “a physicist.” Through focusing on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) as a case study, Nichols will show that physicists must become well-versed in governmental policy, community building, international relations, and business negotiations.


About the Speaker


Tiffany Nichols headshot

Tiffany Nichols

Tiffany Nichols is a doctoral candidate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, a graduate student affiliate at the Black Hole Initiative, and a National Science Foundation grantee. Her current research focuses on how place, surrounding environment, and laboratory are embedded in the output signals of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. In this vein, she focuses on how physicists and engineers understand what is a gravitational wave signal and what is merely noise generated by the instrument, its location, and surrounding environment.

Prior to her PhD studies, Nichols earned both a BS in electrical engineering and a JD at the University of Virginia. She has also held positions at the RAND Corporation, the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and at highly ranked US law firms, where she focused on intellectual property litigation, patent prosecution, and portfolio management. In addition, Nichols is the 2019 and 2020 chair for the Forum of Graduate Student Affairs of the American Physical Society.

About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, our speakers are exploring issues of gender, race, and colonialism in the history of the physical and biological sciences from the early modern period to the 21st century.