Louisiana Board of Regents

Baton Rouge, LA - Over the last decade, LONI has become an indispensable component of the research strengths of the state of Louisiana. Their most recent and significant contribution to the advancement of scientific research would be the detection of gravitational waves. This is phenomenon is momentous to the science community as it contributes to the theory of relativity, a one hundred year-old prediction made by Albert Einstein. There has been considerable evidence to support his general theory of relativity; however, gravitational waves remained the missing component which had never been observed directly until now.

On February 11, 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that a gravitational wave was detected for the first time in human history. On the early morning of September 14, 2015, both of its observatories, located in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, received clear signals of a gravitational wave which turned out to be radiated from two merging black holes 1.3 billion light years away. The detection does not only provide a key evidence for Einstein’s theory, but also equips humankind with a brand new way of probing and understanding the universe in which we live.

Contributing to this historic discovery, LIGO was assisted by Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) which connects Louisiana's major research universities: Louisiana State University (LSU), Louisiana Tech University, LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Southern University, Tulane University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette and University of New Orleans. LONI enhances collaboration on research initiatives by producing faster results with greater accuracy, more specifically to assist LIGO in transferring data from observatories to data processing facilities around the country.

“Our scientific data is constantly transmitted over LONI for this science, allowing not only real-time analysis of potential gravitational wave events by our collaborators across the globe, but also follow-up observations by other methods (telescope, radio, x-ray),” said Matt Cowart, a scientist at LIGO.

At the Livingston observatory alone, data is being generated at a staggering average rate of approximately 18 megabytes per second. At this rate, a one-terabyte desktop hard drive can be filled up in one half day. According to Matt Cowart, in the weeks immediately after the signal was received, LIGO utilized the bandwidth to completely transfer their data at the observation point so that they could be certain that, after careful analysis, they had made their first detection. During this period of time, the data transfer rate increased by as much as five folds, reaching a peak of over 100 megabytes per second. In fact, during the year of 2015, over 500 Terabytes of data was transferred over LONI network from the LIGO site at Livingston, Louisiana, which is equivalent to approximately 8500 hours of music, 770 hours of video, 155,000 photos or 250 hours of movies.

Fulfilling this kind of task is in no sense a small undertaking. Yet it has become the cornerstone for research projects like LIGO that requires strong computational and data capabilities. This plays into the strength of LONI, which is to provide the much needed, robust cyberinfrastructure for the research community. A state-of-the-art research and education network, LONI connects the major research universities in Louisiana with fiber optics network, as well as other government, education, industry and research partners, with LIGO being one of them, and provides researchers with access to high performance computing (HPC) resources.