Jim Hough - Life after SUPA

Since passing on the SUPA baton to Alan in May I seem to have been busier than ever, mainly in the area of contributing to international planning for the future of the gravitational wave field but also in helping with the preparation of our collaborative consortium grant application to STFC and spending time - but not enough yet - in the lab with our graduate students, with me being taught how to do experimental research in the computer automated era.

So I am back to my old area of helping to measure mechanical loss, and am learning about how to measure thermal conductivities of bonded silicon elements at cryogenic temperatures, as well as solving wave equations for determining the elastic moduli of thin silicate bonds using ultrasonics.

This lab activity is real fun, at least for me – not sure about how the grad students find it (: .

On the international front, meetings in Washington, Alaska, Tokyo and Cascina have begun to clarify the possibilities for future developments in both the USA and Europe, and of course the discovery and direct observation of not only black holes but a black hole binary system with totally unexpected masses is giving our field a huge boost. This discovery has also persuaded the Indian government to host the third LIGO detector in India.

Sheila Rowan and I visited a number of the relevant research groups in India in November and were very impressed by their technical capabilities and feel that it will be pleasure to work with them in the LIGO-India venture. Now I look forward to exciting new results both in the lab and from the analysis of the rest of the data from the first science run of aLIGO!

Jim Hough’s career so far:

Jim’s research career has been devoted to the search for gravitational waves produced by violent events in the Universe. Sharing the news of the first direct detection of gravitational waves and the first direct observation of black holes with the world’s media in Washington on 11th February 2016 as a lead researcher in the LIGO Science Collaboration is the culmination of over 40 years of dedication.

To a large extent these discoveries were made possible by the novel suspension systems for the mirrors of the upgraded LIGO interferometers, suspension systems which were conceived designed and supplied by a consortium led by the Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) in Glasgow and funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). As a Principal or Co-Principal Investigator on SERC/PPARC/STFC grants, Jim has been awarded a total of £45M since 1982 for the development of gravitational wave detectors.

Jim attended the High School of Glasgow before going on to the University of Glasgow where he graduated with BSc 1st class honours in Natural Philosophy in 1967 and a PhD in 1971. After a period as a Research Fellow, he progressed his academic career in Glasgow from Lecturer to the distinguished Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy and Director of IGR. Since stepping down as CEO of SUPA he has continued to make major contributions as Research Professor, Associate Director of IGR and Director (Scotland) of the International Max Planck Partnership.

Even as a young Lecturer, Jim had already alerted the world to the possibility of detecting gravitational waves (Hough et al, Nature, 1975 254, 4898-501). He later showed that a new generation of detectors that he designed have the ability to detect such waves. The challenge was epic, demanding incredible precision, measuring distances to a tiny fraction of the diameter of an atomic nucleus over several kilometres.

Jim has been accumulating awards and prizes throughout his career, from winning the University of Glasgow Thomson Prize in Experimental Physics in 1968, to the 2015 Phillips Award for distinguished service to the Institute of Physics. He was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1991 and the Royal Society (London) in 2003, and received an OBE in 2013 for Services to Science. He has held executive roles in IoP, advisory roles in PPARC, STFC and ESF, and was a member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council from 2010 to 2015.

Jim has been highly influential in all of the international gravitational wave initiatives. He was the originator and principal UK proposer of the concept of a high technology UK/German detector GEO 600 to be comparable in sensitivity with the much larger American LIGO and European VIRGO detectors. He was a member of the Program Advisory Committee for the US LIGO gravitational wave detector system, he chaired the Search Committee for a new Director of LIGO Laboratories and also chaired the Gravitational Wave International Committee (GWIC). He was the Principal UK proposer of LISA (a space based gravitational wave detector) to ESA which subsequently led to the selection of LISA as an ESA Cornerstone Mission. While Jim was involved with early stages of LISA Pathfinder Harry Ward became the PI in this area about 10 years ago and led the Glasgow development of the optical bench and interferometry, culminating in Pathfinder’s successful launch into space on 3rd Dec 2015 and entry into Science mode early in March 2016.

Today, we stand poised at the start of gravitational astronomy, with developments in progress for even more sensitive detectors both on the ground and in space. Jim continues to influence international planning for the future of the gravitational wave field while leading new research in materials and optics towards third generation long baseline gravitational wave detectors (the Einstein Telescope, ET), upgrades to the US advanced LIGO interferometers and the newly announced third LIGO detector in India.