A CALTECH PhD in Materials Science, I eventually was the President and CEO of TECHALLOY Co.
From 1990 to 2000 . TECHALLOY Company was the largest manufacturer of stainless steel and Superalloy wires in NORTH AMERICA, with sales reaching $ 130 Million in 1999, and
6 facilities ( drawing mills) across the USA.
Back in 1995 or 1996, my welding Plant in Baltimore received an order for a very special
stainless welding wire in grade 316LSi, restricted chemistry, for the construction of the
LIGO Observatory in Hanford. The order was for about 2000 lbs or so.
It came to my attention and I gave instruction to monitor very closely the order which
we delivered to LIGO's full satisfaction.
Very proud to have modestly contributed to this major achievement of CALTECH !
From 1993-1998 I was a grad student in Rainer Weiss' LIGO group at MIT. One day, a brand new student gave Rai Weiss his very first lab data report ever. As Rai read the report, he started shaking his head and grunting, louder and louder, angrier and angrier. Finally, Rai closed the report, slammed it on the table, looked the student in the eyes, and said to him (in front of all of us): "Well, you fucked up." Then Rai stood up and left the room. As the new student stood there trembling, one of the other grad students (B.L.) looked at the young guy, and said: "Don't worry, WE still love you!"
I was working for one of the Department of Energy contractors at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Richland, WA., and we had recently expanded our D.C. office to interact more responsibly with Congress (this used to be called lobbying). Although it may be upsetting to digest, the Congressional funding for LIGO had very little to do about the pursuit of science. I had worked with the late Senator Brock Adams from Washington State, who teamed with the more powerful Senator from Louisiana, J. Bennett Johnston, to ensure Congressional funding for the twin sites. The driving force for the LIGO sites was strictly funding for the States of Washington and Louisiana through their Senatorial representatives.
I had worked on a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) back in 1985 at the NASA JPL branch on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena. As an undergraduate, at the time I did not have much of an understanding of gravity waves. I remember reading a large set of engineering manuals on how the Gravity Wave Observatory would be built. My SURF research was specifically on the outgassing techniques of Stainless Steel 304L, to address the ultra-high vacuum that was necessary to build the 5-mile long tubes. I was fascinated in thinking how a small perturbation within these tubes can detect a gravity wave somewhere within the universe. The use of two separate facilities, one on the West Coast and another on the East Coast also boggled my mind as to how two facilities so far apart can actually be used to amplify the detection of signals.
Anyway, I now work in the Washington DC area as a government contractor, and recently I attended a briefing on the LIGO activities put together by multiple government agencies. I had gotten into a discussion with a number of people, and I had to make them aware that work on gravity wave detection has been happening for a number of decades, especially at Caltech, and the current activities labeled as LIGO actually started a long time ago, and folks should understand that the hopes and dreams of science researchers takes a long time to fulfill.
I was just a grad student, helping out on the filming of a documentary at Caltech.
Called "The Cosmic Quest" (Barr Films), it is now unavailable.
But I really wanted to save my favorite part from oblivion so I got a copy of the
segment which we filmed at Robinson and Bridge with Kip Thorne, Ron Drever,
and his (then) postdoc, SiuAu Lee.
This is a snapshot of the entire Caltech origin of LIGO, in one four minute clip:
Kip S Thorne <firstname.lastname@example.org> to me, SiuAu.Lee
She was Drever's first postdoc - the first person he hired at Caltech.
Kip S. Thorne: email@example.com
On Feb 15, 2016, at 4:56 PM, Matt Malkan <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
i just added that bit of information in the header information.,
I had been wondering about Dr. Lee's identity (not having spent
enough time on the 3rd flr of West Bridge to remember...)
On Mon, Feb 15, 2016 at 4:20 PM, Kip S Thorne <email@example.com> wrote:
Thankyou, Siu Au
MATT: the video was around April 1980.
Thanks for the video. Yes, I was in there with Ron. I remember someone came to film the video. The lab was on the third floor of W. Bridge. We had the Ar laser and some of the optics, but I don't think we had the vacuum system for the 10 m prototype yet.
I came to Caltech in the beginning of 1980. So the film should be in 1980. Somehow the month of April stuck in my mind. Ron told me he had seen the movie (on PBS TV ?) not too long after it was filmed. I have never seen it and I often wondered what happened to it. This is the first time I saw myself.
Again, congratulations. It is truly wonderful and fantastic.
On 2/14/2016, Kip S Thorne wrote:
Dear Siu Au,
Matt Malkan (astrophysicist at UCLA) just pointed me to a video at
Is that you in the video, along with Ron Drever? Can you remind me
when it was you arrived at Caltech? I'm trying to date the video.
I think 1980.
I was an undergrad that did research over the summer at the MIT campus for LIGO, which is a 40 meter test beam. Sam Waldmann (now at SpaceX) and Rai Weiss were my two main advisors at the time. Part of my job there was to gain a lot of new experience with electronics, circuit design, and hardware development before spending my senior year doing a thesis on LIGO. The thesis focused on studying and installing the quadruple pendulum system ("quads") that helps passively isolate random noise in the mirrors themselves. However, during my summer, I worked on the Internal seismic isolation platforms ("ISIs") which are actively dampening seismic noise from the environment. As you might guess, these included an array of sensors and seismometers measuring the input and applying a transfer function to determine a correction given the known characteristics of the system. After a month working hard on putting together test boards that could be hooked up to the seismometers on the ISIs, it was finally time to test the seismometers when they came in. So I went into the clean room, along with my graduate student, and hooked up cables from the sensors to the computer -- through a makeshift hole in the wall separating the two rooms. Graduate student left for lunch and I decided to quickly turn the computer on, turn on the hardware, and see if I could get a signal. I saw nothing initially and thought I screwed things up, so I panicked, unplugged, and replugged. All of a sudden, I saw a big spike on the screen across all sensors and thought I broke something -- and then the room started shaking.
I inadvertently recorded the 2011 Virginia earthquake from Cambridge using seismometers installed on one of the ISIs for LIGO... whoops!Read More…
In my case, the time frame is March 1972 to September 2000, obviously not while I was at Caltech (see degree dates!), but rather while I was at the University of California, Irvine (January-June each year) and the University of Maryland (July to December each year) and married to Joseph Weber, who invented, built, and operated the first detectors for gravitational waves, with NSF funding from about 1959 until all the NSF gravity wave dollars went to LIGO, the first hit coming in 1975 and the coup de grace in 1985. Jump ahead to March, 2016, when a member of a prize-selection committee asked me to provide a LIGO nomination in time for their meeting,
which (oh by the way), was two days away. This I did, and yes (of course) they won. Come to think of it, I was also at the February 11th press briefing, at the kind invitation of NSF director France Cordova, who has been a friend since she was a Caltech grad student, working with Kip Thorne (with whom I wrote my first post-PhD paper, on the search for collapsed stars (now called black holes) in single-line spectroscopic binaries. ).