Paper 7

`Growing Pains: LIGO becomes big science’ (To be published in Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences.)

Drawing of stick man with LIGO

Over a thirty year period the search for gravitational waves using large scale interferometers has grown from a research proposal, to a few small projects, to a billion dollar international enterprise. The American project is known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). LIGO’s working practices, management style, and scientific goals have changed as the enterprise has become larger. The case study explores the `logic’ of LIGO’s sometimes traumatic organizational revolutions and relates them to the changing nature of the science and the political setting in which these are set; the future may indicate the extent to which LIGO’s science was ready for the degree of `routinisation’ that now characterises it. While the course and character of each upheaval cannot be fully understood without an analysis of the capacities and capabilities of the personnel involved, this study concentrates on structural changes but uses the words of individuals to illustrate them. See The Sociology of Science for Non-Sociologists.

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