Technological Spin-offsLIGO-Australia requires extremes of performance and involves enormous advances beyond normal industry practice in a range of new technologies. While the benefits from gravitational waves themselves are unknown, benefits from applications of technology spin offs are certain, especially in the fields of optics, lasers, high vacuum welding, vibration isolation, digital signal processing and data visualisation, all of which have important uses in industry.
Welding TechnologyCSIRO’s keyhole welding technology offers enormous benefits. Instead of a normal double sided weld, this full penetration welding technique provides a perfect pooled joint of extremely high quality. The high power levels mandate high welding speed which translates into higher productivity and competitiveness. The introduction of such technology requires training of a pool of experts, giving companies like Duraduct the skills, confidence and background to bid for international projects. The picture on p 27 shows a pipe mill at Duraduct on which the new techniques can be used.
Vibration isolation for mineral explorationThe vibration isolation demanded by gravitational wave detectors is so extreme that it required the development of a whole range of new techniques. The vibration isolation needs in industry are less demanding and so it is easy to apply the new techniques in these situations to give exceptional performance. A particular problem is the vibration of airborne sensors for mineral exploration. Many different instruments are used to probe the ground and identify ore bodies. However, many of them lose sensitivity because of aircraft vibration. Gravitational wave researchers at UWA are working closely with the worldwide mineral exploration company Fugro, and with Gravitec, a London based company which has moved its research laboratories to the University of Western Australia to benefit from gravitational wave technology. Gravitec has developed gradient sensors which are dependent on high-performance vibration isolation. Fugro contracted UWA to develop a vibration isolator for an existing instrument.
Sapphire oscillatorsSapphire oscillator technology was first developed at UWA for the niobium bar gravity wave detector. Today, Western Australia leads the world in the sapphire oscillator industry, which has enormous growth potential. Used in the radar and communication technologies, sapphire oscillators enable a ten thousand-fold increase in sensitivity. A new research group at UWA is exploiting the technology in many important experiments. This translates into better air-safety, cheaper telecommunications systems and radar systems that are able to detect stealth bombers.
High power lasersLIGO-Australia requires extremely high-powered lasers. The local expertise in this technology has many exciting applications in industry, from laser projection to laser medical applications. Any industry that requires precision cutting, for example the steel, timber, masonry and textile industries, will benefit enormously from our rapidly evolving laser technology resulting in finer, more stable and efficient beams.
Measuring perfectionGravitational wave detectors demand optical components that are so perfect and precise that measuring their imperfection is a major challenge. The surfaces have to be precise to within a billionth of a metre. The materials must be very pure and must not absorb or scatter laser light. Nothing is perfect, however, so gravitational wave detectors also demand very sensitive instruments for characterising the perfection of their mirrors. Australian gravitational wave physicists have developed devices and techniques that can measure three different aspects of these near perfect mirrors - these are far superior to existing technologies and have potential commercial applications. The CSIRO Australian Centre for Precision Optics has developed techniques for measuring the shapes of mirror surfaces down to an atomic level. The University of Adelaide has created a sensor that can measure the varying amounts of light absorbed inside a transparent material by the way light paths are bent. The University of Western Australia has developed a device that can make 3D maps of the light scattering inside optical materials, thus exposing impurities and other imperfections. All these technologies have many applications, from advanced spacecraft design to the manufacture of synthetic crystals.
High efficiency ground waterair-conditioningThe invention of an innovative ultra-low energy air-conditioning system is an example of how the challenging environment of frontier science can lead to new and unexpected innovations. ACIGA scientists needed to create a very large laboratory in which the temperature changed slowly, and in a way that was environmentally responsible and economical. They knew that directly underground was a vast reservoir of cool ground water of the Perth coastal plain. The idea was to harness this water to directly cool the laboratory, not by evaporation, but by its inherent low temperature, and then re-inject the water at another location. The water would not be contaminated and would be warmed by only a few degrees. The result was a large airconditioner that maintains the large HOPTF laboratory at about 24 degrees for the same power costs as a small domestic air-conditioner. Another unit was installed successfully in the Gravity Discovery Centre. ACIGA, in collaboration with the UWA Mechanical Engineering Department and funded by the Alternative Energy Development Board, studied its suitability for the Perth region. They found that 200,000 such energy conserving units could be installed in Perth without adversely heating the ground water. This valuable energy-saving technology can now be more widely applied.