Georgia Tech PhD Student Called To Meet India's Prime Minister
Karan Jani helped discover gravitational waves as part of LIGO
Karan Jani has been actively working to expand the LIGO project to his home country of India, after helping discover gravitational waves as part of his research at Georgia Tech. That’s why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked to meet with him in Washington, D.C.
It’s not everyday a college student gets to rub elbows with world leaders, but Karan Jani isn’t your typical college student.
Jani, a Ph.D. candidate in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics, computes complex equations to determine the distance to which LIGO detectors are sensitive enough to observe black hole collisions. LIGO, or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), is a global network working to detect gravitational waves, and confirmed their first-ever detected wave earlier this year. A black hole collision is believed to have sparked that first-detected wave.
Jani has also been actively working to expand the LIGO project to his home country of India, and that’s why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked to meet with him in Washington, D.C.
“He mentioned in the meeting that he reads my tweets,” Jani says with a smile.
The future astrophysicist takes to Twitter often to talk about his research and the LIGO Project. Prior to the discovery, he’d been calculating the possibilities of gravitational waves for nine years. He was contacted by the Indian Embassy after the Indian government fast-tracked a plan to build LIGO’s third observatory in their nation, the first outside the U.S.
“This will be exactly identical to what LIGO has in Washington state and Louisiana,” Jani explains.
Jani says Prime Minister Modi was visibly excited about the opportunity for expanding scientific collaboration between the U.S. and India.
“A leader of a nation with a billion things to think about, the fact that he made time to understand science as complicated as LIGO and gravitational waves is just so cool,” Jani says.
What’s also cool? Snapping a selfie with the leader of the world’s second most populous country.
“I didn’t even think they’d let me have my phone,” Jani says.
When he asked the prime minister to take a photographic memento of the meeting, he was more than surprised by the response.
“He was so happy, he was like ‘Oh yeah! Sure!’” Jani says the prime minister even suggested they step into good lighting so the picture would turn out better.
Jani admits meeting his nation’s prime minister prompted a flood of emotions.
“I never even saw a telescope until I was a second year in college,” he admits. “Now I’ve been a part of one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our century, and now it’s coming to my country. It’s very humbling.”
Jani also laughs about how poignant Georgia Tech’s new Einstein statue is in light of the discovery, and this week’s news of LIGO expanding to India. Einstein originally proposed the idea of gravitational waves one hundred years ago.
“I think this is Einstein’s legacy. The world’s two largest democracies keeping science and technology at the forefront, and how important it is to fund fundamental science," Jani says.
Albert Einstein would be happy, Jani says.