Michèle Heurs appointed as junior professor in the QUEST Cluster of Excellence

July 13, 2010

Prof. Michèle Heurs, former staff member at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute / AEI), is returning to the AEI in Hannover to conduct research into the physical fundamentals of noise sources in laser interferometers.

Through the use of large laser interferometers, such as the GEO600 detector in Ruthe near Hannover operated by the AEI, scientists around the globe are tracking down gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein. A major disturbance source that blocks the measuring of gravitational waves is the control and regulating systems of the measuring device itself, which generate noise. In order to be able to undertake systematic improvements on the detector, the scientists must fully understand these noise sources.

This is Heurs’ goal. After a two-and-a-half year research residency at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia, she will take up the position as junior professor on 15 July at Leibniz Universität Hannover and work within the framework of the QUEST Cluster of Excellence (Centre for Quantum Engineering and Space-Time Research) at the AEI Hannover. Already in her previous period of time at the AEI, the young scientist conducted research into the stabilization of laser systems for gravitational wave research. Gravitational waves - ripples in space-time that travel at the speed of light - are the last prediction from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which have not yet been able to be directly detected through experiments. Their indirect proof was already awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1993.

“We are very pleased to have Michèle Heurs on the QUEST team. She is not only an excellent scientist, but also an enthusiastic teacher, a true asset for lectures in the physics field,” says Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ertmer, Coordinator of the Cluster of Excellence.

“A junior professorship with QUEST in a wonderful chance for me to continue to work on one of the most exciting jobs of all: the measurement of gravitational waves,” says Heurs. “Together with my Working Group, I will be examining the control and regulating systems in detail and will then develop a process control that makes the gravitational wave detector even more sensitive.”

Gravitational-wave astronomy brings light to the dark cosmos

Although with conventional telescopes - which react to electromagnetic waves - we can see billions of galaxies, around 96 percent of space remains dark to us. With the direct detection of gravitational waves, the scientists want to observe this dark side of the cosmos - black holes, neutron stars and other phenomena that do not emit electromagnetic waves and have therefore remained invisible to us.

The rushing of the North Sea in the data pool

The space-time wave signals are so weak that the devices which scientists are using to track them down must be extremely sensitive to measure them. This, in turn, means that all possible disturbance sources impede the measurements. The scientists can therefore see in the data from the GEO600 detector in Ruthe near Hannover not only earthquakes that take place in the southern hemisphere of the Earth, but also the surge of the North Sea. These tiny tremors alone can cause the sensitive optics to vibrate and thereby disturb the actual measurements. In order to counterbalance these disturbances, the scientists make use of complex measurement and regulation technology which, however, also contributes to the noise in the data. This noise will now be closely studied by Prof. Heurs in order to find an optimum process control.

Prof. Michèle Heurs, b. 1975, studied physics at Leibniz Universität Hannover and received her doctorate in December 2004 focussing on the stabilization of lasers for gravitational wave research. After her doctorate, she continued to work as a scientist at the AEI in the Department of Prof. Karsten Danzmann on the physics of high-power lasers. In October 2007 she took up a postdoc position in the research group of Dr. Elanor Huntington at the University of New South Wales in Canberra (Australia) where she researched in particular non-classical light sources.


The Hannover-based Cluster of Excellence QUEST (Centre for Quantum Engineering and Space-Time-Research) was authorized in October 2007 within the framework of the Excellence Initiative of the German federal and state governments. QUEST unites six institutes of Leibniz Universität Hannover with five other research centres in Lower Saxony in order to conduct first-class research on the quantum limit. In the four quantum areas engineering, quantum sensors, space-time research and innovative technology, around 250 scientists will initially work until 2012 on the refinement of quantum technologies already available today, as well as on those for the future.

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