The University of Central Florida is hosting this week more than 70 scientists from around the nation who study gravitational waves.

The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves Physics Frontiers Center (NANOGrav) selected UCF for its spring meeting March 4-6. The organization only conducts two major meetings a year.

NANOGrav is a collaboration of scientists in the U.S. and Canada working to detect low-frequency gravitational waves and to characterize the low-frequency universe in order to probe galaxy evolution over cosmic time. The center was established in 2007, and today has more than 100 members at more than 40 institutions.

The group selected UCF because it manages the Arecibo Observatory under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The NANOGrav observing program uses the observatory, home to one of the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world, to study pulsars. They are used to measure the fluctuations in spacetime produced by gravitational waves.

“Gravitational waves give us a new way to observe the universe, particularly sources that don’t give off a lot (or any) light, like black holes,” says astrophysicist Sarah Vigeland, a member of NANOGrav who will be giving a public talk as part of the meeting. “With pulsars, we can observe gravitational waves that experiments like LIGO [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory] can’t see because they have much longer wavelengths. Pulsar timing array experiments like NANOGrav are building a galaxy-sized gravitational wave detector.”

UCF is at the center of this research thanks to the Arecibo Observatory.  Scientists at Arecibo, UCF’s main campus and UCF’s Florida Space Institute are working together on a variety of projects.

The NANOGrav meeting brings a host of national experts to campus giving faculty and researchers an opportunity to listen to some of the cutting-edge work being done in the field.

Undergraduates students who sign up may also participate in a free, hands-on workshop March 2-3.

The public will get a chance to listen to Vigeland during her talk “Pulsar Timing Arrays: Opening a New Gravitational-Wave Window on the Universe” at 6 p.m. on March 4 at Classroom II building, room 101.

Vigeland works at the Center for Gravitation, Cosmology & Astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is also a member of NANOGrav and the International Pulsar Timing Array. She develops data analysis techniques for pulsar timing arrays and leads searches of NANOGrav data for gravitational waves from nearby supermassive binary black holes.

“The fact NANOGrav wanted to meet here shows how important the Arecibo Observatory is to the science community,” says Ray Lugo, director of UCF’s Florida Space Institute who also oversees the Arecibo Observatory for UCF.  “Through Arecibo we have this amazing opportunity for our faculty, staff and students. It demonstrates the growing role UCF has in space research, through the observatory, our educational programs and our work with government and private companies conducting exciting and meaningful research about our solar system and beyond.”