LISA, a proposed ESA/NASA mission to study gravitational waves (GW) with a satellite-based laser interferometer, could open a new realm of GW detection and multi-messenger astronomy. Free from many of the limitations of terrestrial detectors, LISA will be able to observe the universe in a lower frequency band, which is thought to coincide with events of significantly greater rate of detection. Such data could ‘shed light’ on many otherwise ‘dark’ phenomena, for instance, a view of the infant universe, formation of the first seed black holes, and the nature of gravity in the strong-field regime.
Long before LISA launches, several design obstacles must be overcome. In my research, I seek a solution to one such challenge, the limitation of LISA’s sensitivity due to thermally-induced variations in optical systems. This includes contraction/expansion of optical pathways which introduces system noise. LISA requires structures made of near zero coefficient-of-thermal-expansion (CTE) materials. Allvar, a negative CTE alloy, is a promising candidate for portions of the interferometer. When joined with the appropriate material, a zero CTE structure may result. Some upcoming objectives include constructing an Allvar-based optical cavity, tests of thermal stability in vacuum, and the design of a large demonstration assembly for NASA.