The President of the Regional Council Antonio Mazzeo paid a visit yesterday, Friday 4 March, to the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) in Cascina, in the province of Pisa, to the beating heart of the Virgo experiment. With Mazzeo, the mayor of Cascina, Michelangelo Betti, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Pisa, Valter Tamburini. Guiding them on their visit were Giovanni Losurdo, coordinator of the Virgo experiment, and Stavros Katsanevas, director of the European Gravitational Observatory.
Set up 20 years ago by the French “Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique” (CNRS) and the “Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare” (INFN), joined in 2021 by NIKHEF, the Netherlands Institute of Subatomic Physics, EGO hosts Virgo, one of the three largest and most sensitive gravitational wave detectors in the world and the only one in Europe (the other two are the LIGO detectors in the United States).
Gravitational waves, oscillations of space-time predicted by Einstein more than a century ago, are generated by violent cosmic events, such as the merging of black holes and stars or supernovae explosions. To reveal the imperceptible deformations of space-time produced by the passage of gravitational waves, Virgo measures the relative distance between two test masses suspended at the ends of its arms with an accuracy of less than one thousandth of the diameter of a proton (one millionth of a billionth of a metre, m). In fact, this gigantic interferometer detects the interference of two laser beams, which propagate along the two perpendicular arms of 3 kilometres in ultra-high vacuum tubes.
President Mazzeo was then taken to all the Virgo experimental buildings, where he was shown the technological equipment, unique in the world, that enables the experiment to function: Virgo’s central building, where in 11-metre high vacuum bells, large anti-seismic shock absorbers, the so-called super attenuators, developed by INFN research groups in Pisa, keep the detector mirrors, ultra-pure and ultra-flat synthetic quartz discs, perfectly still, which oscillate imperceptibly when gravitational waves pass by; and the three-kilometre long tunnels, where the laser runs in ultra-high vacuum tubes, constitute the largest vacuum volume in Europe. And finally, the Control Room of the experiment, which is the very brain of Virgo, where the researchers are currently engaged in the delicate phase of commissioning, i.e. setting up the experiment, after the technological upgrading works of the last year, before the restart of the observation phase.
“I had the pleasure and honour of visiting one of the most fascinating places we have in Tuscany, one of the three largest gravitational wave detectors on Earth, together with the two in the USA,” said President Antonio Mazzeo. “We are dealing with a world-class excellence and visiting it confirmed for me the idea of the infinite potential that this technological site has not only for the entire Pisan area but for the entire region and for our country”.
“When you enter Virgo-Ego, you breathe the air of the future,” he continued. “In that facility, research work is carried out without physical or temporal boundaries, with the aim of gaining an understanding of the universe but which, at the same time, will be able to find many useful applications for everyday life. The contribution of Tuscan industry has been invaluable, and the administrators who decided to set up this place at the time were able to effectively raise their eyes to the future. The same must be done now, anticipating as far as possible the needs of the coming years to be ready for the great challenges that await us. Tuscany is a land of innovation and development and I am convinced that many ideas for the Tuscany of 2050 will emerge from Cascina,” concluded Mazzeo.
“In the President of the Regional Council, Antonio Mazzeo, we have found an interlocutor who is sensitive and attentive to the interaction between fundamental research and society, which we have always considered crucial. In addition to the exceptional scope of the scientific discoveries made by Virgo and the important activities of education, inclusion and involvement addressed to the citizens of our centre – said the director of EGO, Stavros Katsanevas – we discussed all those scientific and technological fields, related to the research conducted at EGO and Virgo: the study of seismic phenomena, atmospheric phenomena, and more generally of the environment, a worldwide network of computing and instant distribution of “alerts”, application of advanced optics, quantum sensors and quantum computing. Applications that can make EGO and Virgo, in addition to being internationally recognised scientific excellence, as they already are, a technological development hub of fundamental importance for the Region of Tuscany”.