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LIGO Hanford gets $7.7 million to build STEM Exploration Center

RICHLAND, Wash. - After a years-long effort to secure funding, Richland's very own gravitational wave observatory will be expanding.

The capital budget recently signed by Governor Inslee allocated $7.7 million to the LIGO Hanford Observatory to build a STEM Exploration Center.

"This has been a decade-long process," said Amber Strunk, education and outreach coordinator for the observatory. 

LIGO is the world's largest gravitational wave observatory; the Hanford facility is one of just two of its kind in the country and one of just a handful worldwide. 

Right now, approximately 5,000 K-12 students a year get to experience the research being done at LIGO Hanford, and the new facility will allow them to double that amount. The facility even hosts international visitors - Strunk said next week they have a group from the Netherlands coming to visit. 

"The scientists believe that just as important as finding these gravitational waves is communicating science to the public at large and also to the next generation of scientists, engineers and technicians," she said. "It's really exciting to help those students get excited about it as well." 

The new facility will feature hands-on exhibits including pendulum, sound and light exhibits as well as a spacetime simulator.

Work on the project can't begin until the current observational period, or "science run," is over, because any vibration in the ground can interrupt it. This period is expected to end in May 2020, and construction will start then. The facility is expected to be completed by Fall 2021. 

To learn more about LIGO-Hanford, click here


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