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Topics in gravitational-wave science : macroscopic quantum mechanics and black hole physics


Yang, Huan (2013) Topics in gravitational-wave science : macroscopic quantum mechanics and black hole physics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology.


The theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, the two most important physics discoveries of the 20th century, not only revolutionized our understanding of the nature of space-time and the way matter exists and interacts, but also became the building blocks of what we currently know as modern physics. My thesis studies both subjects in great depths --- this intersection takes place in gravitational-wave physics.

Gravitational waves are "ripples of space-time", long predicted by general relativity. Although indirect evidence of gravitational waves has been discovered from observations of binary pulsars, direct detection of these waves is still actively being pursued. An international array of laser interferometer gravitational-wave detectors has been constructed in the past decade, and a first generation of these detectors has taken several years of data without a discovery. At this moment, these detectors are being upgraded into second-generation configurations, which will have ten times better sensitivity. Kilogram-scale test masses of these detectors, highly isolated from the environment, are probed continuously by photons. The sensitivity of such a quantum measurement can often be limited by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and during such a measurement, the test masses can be viewed as evolving through a sequence of nearly pure quantum states.

The first part of this thesis (Chapter 2) concerns how to minimize the adverse effect of thermal fluctuations on the sensitivity of advanced gravitational detectors, thereby making them closer to being quantum-limited. My colleagues and I present a detailed analysis of coating thermal noise in advanced gravitational-wave detectors, which is the dominant noise source of Advanced LIGO in the middle of the detection frequency band. We identified the two elastic loss angles, clarified the different components of the coating Brownian noise, and obtained their cross spectral densities.

The second part of this thesis (Chapters 3-7) concerns formulating experimental concepts and analyzing experimental results that demonstrate the quantum mechanical behavior of macroscopic objects - as well as developing theoretical tools for analyzing quantum measurement processes. In Chapter 3, we study the open quantum dynamics of optomechanical experiments in which a single photon strongly influences the quantum state of a mechanical object. We also explain how to engineer the mechanical oscillator's quantum state by modifying the single photon's wave function.

In Chapters 4-5, we build theoretical tools for analyzing the so-called "non-Markovian" quantum measurement processes. Chapter 4 establishes a mathematical formalism that describes the evolution of a quantum system (the plant), which is coupled to a non-Markovian bath (i.e., one with a memory) while at the same time being under continuous quantum measurement (by the probe field). This aims at providing a general framework for analyzing a large class of non-Markovian measurement processes. Chapter 5 develops a way of characterizing the non-Markovianity of a bath (i.e.,whether and to what extent the bath remembers information about the plant) by perturbing the plant and watching for changes in the its subsequent evolution. Chapter 6 re-analyzes a recent measurement of a mechanical oscillator's zero-point fluctuations, revealing nontrivial correlation between the measurement device's sensing noise and the quantum rack-action noise.

Chapter 7 describes a model in which gravity is classical and matter motions are quantized, elaborating how the quantum motions of matter are affected by the fact that gravity is classical. It offers an experimentally plausible way to test this model (hence the nature of gravity) by measuring the center-of-mass motion of a macroscopic object.

The most promising gravitational waves for direct detection are those emitted from highly energetic astrophysical processes, sometimes involving black holes - a type of object predicted by general relativity whose properties depend highly on the strong-field regime of the theory. Although black holes have been inferred to exist at centers of galaxies and in certain so-called X-ray binary objects, detecting gravitational waves emitted by systems containing black holes will offer a much more direct way of observing black holes, providing unprecedented details of space-time geometry in the black-holes' strong-field region.

The third part of this thesis (Chapters 8-11) studies black-hole physics in connection with gravitational-wave detection.

Chapter 8 applies black hole perturbation theory to model the dynamics of a light compact object orbiting around a massive central Schwarzschild black hole. In this chapter, we present a Hamiltonian formalism in which the low-mass object and the metric perturbations of the background spacetime are jointly evolved. Chapter 9 uses WKB techniques to analyze oscillation modes (quasi-normal modes or QNMs) of spinning black holes. We obtain analytical approximations to the spectrum of the weakly-damped QNMs, with relative error O(1/L^2), and connect these frequencies to geometrical features of spherical photon orbits in Kerr spacetime. Chapter 11 focuses mainly on near-extremal Kerr black holes, we discuss a bifurcation in their QNM spectra for certain ranges of (l,m) (the angular quantum numbers) as a/M → 1. With tools prepared in Chapter 9 and 10, in Chapter 11 we obtain an analytical approximate for the scalar Green function in Kerr spacetime.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Quantum Mechanics, Black Hole, Gravitational Wave
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Chen, Yanbei
Group:Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, IQIM
Thesis Committee:
  • Chen, Yanbei (chair)
  • Ott, Christian D.
  • Adhikari, Rana
  • Hirata, Christopher M.
Defense Date:10 May 2013
Non-Caltech Author Email:huan.yang07 (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05222013-233805938
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7744
Deposited By: Huan Yang
Deposited On:29 May 2013 20:31
Last Modified:11 Dec 2014 00:36

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