Gravitational Waves Hands-on Workshop

Click here for an online version of this workshop!

Curriculum links

This workshop uses skills students will learn in the course of their physics studies and applies them to gravitational waves. It is aimed at upper high school students, broadly age 14-16 (Intermediate) and 16-18 (Advanced).

The workshop allows the students to apply their knowledge and practice their skills on cutting-edge science and real-world applications. Examples are:

  • Maths-based activities:
    • Trigonometry (used to localise sources)
    • Graph analysis (analysing simulated data)
    • Knowledge of waves (frequency-period relationship)
    • Mathematical equation manipulation (A-level only)
    • Scale conversion (metres -> light years, megaparsec etc.)
    • Hubble’s law and expansion of the Universe
  • Practical activities:
    • Knowledge of waves (frequency, wavelength .etc)
    • Interference and Michelson Interferometers
    • Pendulums and resonance
    • Data taking and recording
    • Data analysis and inference

Workshop Overview

How do the LIGO and VIRGO detectors detect gravitational waves, while accounting for local sources of interference?

The activities in this workshop introduce students to the technology used in the LIGO and VIRGO observatories to detect gravitational waves and limit seismic interference in the detected signals. The activities also introduce students to the data analysis techniques used to localise where gravitational wave events have taken place, their distance from earth and the sizes of the astronomical bodies involved in the events.

This activity has been developed in partnership with the National Space Academy and funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. To book a Masterclass (subsidies may exist) through the National Space Academy please use their contact form. For a workshop directly through Cardiff University, please email us at or use our Contact Form.

Gravitational Waves Workshop Resources

  • Explanatory material:
    • Teacher Presentation: [Powerpoint[PDF]
    • Animations:
      • Part 1: Gravitational waves [mp4]
      • Part 2: LIGO technology and detections [mp4]
    • Safety Information [PDF]
    • Risk Assessment [PDF]
    • Requirements, learning objectives and setup [PDF]
  • Student Activity Packs:
    • Activity Pack A – Seismic Isolation [PDF]
    • Activity Pack B – Michelson Interferometer [PDF]
    • Activity Pack E – Data Analysis [PDF]
    • Datasets [with noise – PDF] [without noise – PDF]
  • Model answers for teachers
    • Activity Pack A – model answers for teachers [PDF]
    • Activity Pack B – model answers for teachers [PDF]
    • Activity pack E – model answers for teachers [PDF]
    • Data analysis answers [PDF]
  • Workshop risk assessment [Word] [PDF]
  • Evaluation:
  • Folder containing all resources [Google Drive]

PDF version

Evaluation Results

The initial results of the workshop evaluation are available in a poster, which was joint winner of the a best-poster prize at the 690th WE-Heraeus Seminar on “General Relativity as a Challenge for Physics Education” (Bonn, Feb 2019).

Curriculum links

Key Stage     Age Group           Topics covered Skills
KS5/A-Level 16+ Properties of waves
Detection of gravitational waves
Black holes
Drawing and interpreting graphs
Use of scientific equipment
Using scientific formulae
Numeracy skills
Literacy skills