1985: I was a grad student in MIT's Film/Video Section, getting ready to shoot my thesis film, called GRAVITY - about an MIT experimental astrophysics lab.
The scientists asked me, "What's the story?" I said I didn't know since I hadn't started filming yet. This seemed to satisfy everyone, so I carried on for five months, filming grad students Andy Cumming and Lyman Page, as they prepare for their general Phd exams, and Dan Dewey, as he builds a gravity wave antenna.
And, finally, I filmed Lab Director, Rainer Weiss (known, familiarly as 'Rai') dashing around the lab, overseeing the whole operation.
BESIDES the prototype work, GRAVITY includes an argument between Einstein and Newton, some handy cartoons and testimony by famed theoretical physicist Dr. Victor Weisskopf. He notes that "If Rai finds a gravity wave, he will win the Nobel Prize."
In a traditional science documentary, the scientists appear in support of the film's educational agenda. In GRAVITY, however, the scientists themselves are the film.
MORE MOVIE STILLS
MY TEACHER AT MIT was famous Documentarian Ricky Leacock; he taught me to trust my senses, to fall in love with my film subjects. He also said, It's OK to laugh: this is important.
I FINISHED FILMING in the Spring of 1985. GRAVITY ends with the final prototype antenna test run, the lab is demolished, the antenna wrapped in plastic for permanent storage.
I showed the film to my scientists - they laughed, but agreed the science, although somewhat curiously told, was 'correct.'
GRAVITY won a New England Film Video Association Award. That was a surprise. Then, I shoved the film into the back of my closet for umpteen years, during which time the graduate students set off on diverging pathways while Rai stuck with gravitational wave measurement.
THE PROTOTYPE IN 1985
SUDDENLY, (as in thirty years later, millions of dollars, thousands of scientists) in September, 2015, three labs, directed by Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and - lo and behold - Rai Weiss, detected one, an actual gravitational wave.
This is one of the two most EPIC discoveries in Physics in the last 100 years. (Higgs Boson Discovery being the other.)
AND THEN, in October, 2017, Rai, Kip and Barry, received the Nobel Prize for Physics. We celebrated, with my joy tempered only by the fact that Ricky had died in 2011. He surely would have laughed once again at the news.
Meanwhile, I scrounged around in the back of my closet, looking for my ancient film.
AS FOR 'GRAVITY.' remarkably, a few people remembered it from thirty years ago. And MIT and Harvard called, wondering if the film survived the decades.
The DocYard, Boston's eminent documentary screening series, then hosted a retrospective of my work at the Brattle Theater, with GRAVITY as the centerpiece. The evening was called: 'THINGS RICKY FORGOT TO TEACH ME, BUT SOMEHOW I LEARNED THEM ANY WAY'
Lyman Page and Dan Dewey flew in for the occasion. Rai Weiss came too, captivating the packed house during the Q and A with tales of the inside world of high end physics.
THE 1985 PROTOTYPE TODAY
NEW YORK TIMES OP DOC: 'THE SOUND OF GRAVITY'
INCLUDES MOMENTS FROM 'GRAVITY' 1985
RECENTLY, I FILMED
A scene of Rai Weiss unwrapping the prototype antenna, the very same one I filmed in 1985.
At MIT, a reunion of Rai, Lyman, Andy, and Dan.
Lyman, Andy and Dan in their respective homes and work spaces.
Their 30 year journeys will form Chapter 2 for a new movie called COSMIC CODA.
LYMAN works on Cosmic Background Radiation and WMAP. He is a Princeton Distinguished University Professor. in 2018 Lyman co-won the 3 million dollar Breakthrough Prize in Physics.
ANDY survived 3 life-threatening illnesses, left physics, joined Wall Street, made millions. Today he is a private investor and philanthropist in Toronto.
DAN worked on the Chandra Project for awhile after MIT. Today, a practicing Buddhist in Chicago, he tutors high school math students.
And RAI mentors students, deals with the Press over his Nobel Prize, and stews about the future of science in our country.
(Meanwhile, I learned that the proper term is 'Gravitational Wave,' not 'Gravity Wave.' I've been saying it wrong for thirty years.)
A FEW THINGS have changed in the last 37 years. The antenna, once a table-top affair, has turned into 2 antennae, each 4 KILOMETERS long. The number of scientists working on gravitational science is in the thousands. Most importantly, the world of experimental astrophysics is no longer the dominion of white males: women, and people from all ethnicities - many of whom are Rai's proteges - now run the show.
So, I pick up the story with World Famous MIT Astrophysicist, LISA BARSOTTI. She's a specialist in Frequency Dependent Squeezing. (What is that?)
The idea is to embed with Lisa's lab for 6 months, just as I did with Rai Weiss's lab in 1985, thus providing the third chapter for a new movie called, COSMIC CODA.
Throughout 2022-23 I will film Lisa's grad students as they deploy their 'squeezers' at the giant gravitational wave antennae in Washington and Louisiana. And I'll learn to fly a drone. (Because, how else do you film a tube 4 KILOMETERS long?)
The story, overall, hangs on one surprise (Rai's Nobel Prize) only to be followed by another (Lisa and her grads march ahead.) In COSMIC CODA, the past sits side by side with the present, launching us then well into the future.
A FEW SCREENGRABS FROM RECENT FILM SHOOTS IN WASHINGTON AND LOUISIANA
BREAKING NEWS! COSMIC CODA JUST RECEIVED A
2022 LEF MOVING IMAGE FUND PRODUCTION GRANT.
WE ARE ON OUR WAY!
Dean of MIT School of Science
Discoverer of Quantum Squeezing
Distinguished University Professor, Northwestern University.
Focuses on Gravitational Wave Sources
Professor of Physics, Louisiana State University.
Co-Founded the Working Groups on Data Analysis and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration