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Adaptation

Late last year, the Michelson interferometer finished what it had started 129 years earlier. It was in 1887 that Albert Michelson…By Michael Segal

Late last year, the Michelson interferometer finished what it had started 129 years earlier.

It was in 1887 that Albert Michelson and Edward Morley split and recombined a light beam to prove that light was not a vibration in an invisible aether. What became known as the world’s most famous failed experiment set the stage for special relativity, then general relativity and the prediction of gravitational waves.

How appropriate, then, that an outrageously sophisticated version of the same interferometer be the instrument that finally, directly detected gravitational waves last year. It’s a classic story of adaptation in science: a single tool, used to probe vastly different regimes, producing disparate data points that are unified theoretically.

And it’s just one story of many like it. From its tools to its subjects to its practitioners, science does nothing if not adapt.

Welcome to “Adaptation.”

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