Winners of WSC19: People in Science

The following post list the winners of WSC 2019.

Two scientists inside LIGO Pre-Stabilized Laser enclosure, wondering what went wrong.

The winning image of the People in Science category depicts Georgia Mansell and Jason Oberling at the Pre-Stabilized Laser (PSL) enclosure of LIGO Hanford. It was taken by Nutsinee Kijbunchoo.

Comment from the author:

I’m a physics PhD student based at the National Australian University, Canberra, Australia. I always thought black holes were cool but distorted space-time and gravitational waves got me hooked — so I joined the LIGO Scientific Collaboration during my final year of undergrad in 2014. I was working as an operations specialist in the control room at LIGO Hanford, one of the two U.S. based gravitational-wave detectors, when the first gravitational wave was detected in September 2015. Couple years later I left Washington state to pursue a PhD in the Down Under. After having spent less than a year in Australia my advisor sent me back to LIGO Hanford to help construct and commission the quantum squeezing system (aka “squeezer”) prior to the third observing run and again during the third observing run break. I would always carry a camera around for documentation purposes.

One of my hobbies happened to be street photography so unconsciously I would point my camera at people in addition to documenting the science for my thesis. On a rare day when I didn’t have to work at my own corner, I followed Georgia Mansell (MIT PostDoc) and Jason Oberling (site detector engineer) into the Pre-Stabilized Laser (PSL) enclosure. It was my first time seeing the inside of one of the most guarded areas of LIGO. Inside the PSL is where the laser we use to detect gravitational waves generates. It is literally where it all begins. The system is capable of outputting 70-80 W of laser power so the room needs to be clean as dust and bugs can damage the optic coatings if they burn. While I was watching Georgia and Jason work I snapped this photo as the two were baffled by the low amount of light coupling into the new fiber coupler they just installed. Just like every other equipment, LIGO too needs to be maintained constantly.

When we read about scientific discoveries on the news or hear science talks at conferences often the human factor is neglected. LIGO isn’t just a giant machine that listens to black holes and neutron star collisions. It takes decades and generations of scientists to get to where it is today. Routine maintenance is also required to keep the detector(s) operational. By sharing this photo with a wider audience via the competition I hope to bring humans back into science. Science is cool, I know, but after all it’s the quirky human scientists that make the science happen and inspire generations to come.


Weekly maintenance of the needles on the clinical chemistry module. Author: Chiara Marraccini from Italy
The office of the paleoanthropologist Stefano Ricci at the University of Siena. Author: Stefano Ricci Cortili from Italy
Associate Professor in Estonian Geography Taavi Pae in his office. Author: Lauri Kulpsoo from Estonia
Andrei Kartoziia at the Samoylov Island scientific station. Author: Alexey Faguet from Russia
Junior researcher A prototype of a snake-like robot for endoscopic surgery: the i²Snake. Author: P. Berthet-Rayne et al. from France
Heart valve prosthesis implantation. Amosov National Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery. Author: Lena Gulenko from Ukraine

Images were published under CC BY 4.0 or CC BY-SA 4.0 licenses.