Gravitational waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein and later indirectly confirmed in an number of experiments. Recently leading physicists announced that they may have a 'solid' proof that these waves exist. I wonder why we need to spend so much money on study of this phenomena. I can see at least two reasons: 1. Confirm one of the key predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. 2. Detect cataclysmic events in cosmos (such as collision of two black holes etc.)

Anything else?

Are there any benefits of this study in the fields of renewable energy (like newer, more efficient energy sources) or advanced propulsion technologies (building of faster space ships)?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Why did scientists spend time and money on studying EM waves right after Maxwell theory? Just to test the theory? Or with some economical/practical benefit in mind? Well, I like to think they did because of scientific curiosity and love for the natural philosophy. They might have had practical intentions, but they could never expect that some day, every aspect of our life would depend on EM waves. How can we know what will be the applications of G waves? I suppose some day some people will get rich bc of them; people wont be able to live w/o them. But this is not the reason I study G waves.. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 17:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Why do some people climb the mountain? Because the mountain is there and some people can pull themselves up with one hand hanging on to nothing but a half inch crack in the rock. I can't do that, so I am not climbing the mountain. My hobbies have to do with machines that make measurements on natural phenomena. Why am I doing this? Because the natural phenomena are there and I like building those machines. What are the uses of gravitational waves? They are probably our last best tool to learn about the early universe. For me that's enough. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jan 13, 2016 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AccidentalFourierTransform: I agree, I just wanted to know what other possible 'perks' of the research. For example, in case of Nuclear Fusion we got both - new source of energy and new source of propulsion research. Here, I can clearly see how people can get lots of money for Nuclear Fusion research. In case of very interesting (no doubt) research on G waves, it's probably harder to persuade grant committee to give money or am I wrong? $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne: thank you very much for your passionate comment. I assure you that I also am a passionate person in the field of my research. I was just trying to approach this question from a more down-to-earth perspective. For example, if you want to climb a mountain you can allocate sufficient funds on your own, while in case of G waves it's impossible, so you gotta convince a bunch of people (maybe not very passionate about G waves; or your way of studying them etc. etc.) to give you grant money. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Leo: I can feel your passion, don't worry. The reason why it is important to make the mountaineering comment is because it's valid. Science funding agencies are not looking for commercial applications. They are run by people who fully realize that being human means climbing the highest mountains, at all cost. There are no higher mountains than those of the mind. You are completely correct about the collaborative aspects of science and funding. If you want to do this, you have to work with other, and not always "easy", people. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jan 13, 2016 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


scientific studies have no absolute benefit or loss as definable in human reasoning.

I think you want to ask what's the "Application" of the gravitational waves theory?

It's a very opinion based question. scientific research is neutral and it's application maybe classified as benefit (nuclear energy) or loss (nuclear armageddon) by human opinions.

That said the application may not be visible immediately but are discovered over time.

In late 1800s to early 1900s , the quantum theory and atomic models seemed very irrelevant to humanity but today 100 years after their formulation we have nuclear energy and GPS .

  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I agree with that. It seems that all the immediate applications are already presented/discussed in this question (at least I hope so). But can someone come to, lets say NSF and ask them: Please give me a million dollars grant because I am passionate about studying a scientific phenomenon. Yes we can! But you gotta convince them that this money won't be wasted for something that is not not appealing to them. It seems like in this case all the reasons presented above were appealing enough to allocate the grant money. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 18:05

Benefits is a matter of opinion, and I won't address that. On the other hand, the question of applications has less subjective answers, so I'll answer that.

The short answer is that there are two likely applications of gravitational wave studies:

  1. Verification of the predictions of general relativity (GR)

  2. Observations for astronomy and astrophysics

(1) is physics, and that's where my expertise lies. Observations of gravitational waves confirm some of the predictions of GR. Compared to other parts of physics, GR doesn't have as much empirical verification. Variations in the orbit of mercury, bending of light by the Sun, gravitational redshift, and other astronomical observations support GR, and there have been some experiments that support GR, but more evidence is needed.

(2) is astronomy and astrophysics, of course. Gravitational waves have different characteristics than electromagnetic waves, like light and radio waves. So, gravitational wave observations provide an additional way to observe astronomical and astrophysics events and bodies. Gravational waves interact with matter weakly. That makes them hard to observe, but it also means that they are not affected very much by dust and plasmas. Dust and plasmas do affect electromagnetic waves. So there are some events we cannot observe by electromagnetic waves that we should be able to observe by gravitational waves.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I finally got a concrete answer! (not a bunch of emotional philosophical discussions with people that just want to show off) That's what I was looking for - explanations and verification whether what I already learned about them is enough to understand this subject. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2016 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ I am glad that my answer helped. I simulated black hole mergers in an area called numerical relativity (NR). Einstein's equation, which is the basis of GR, can only be solved exactly ("on paper"), for special cases that do not describe cases in the real universe. So numerical simulations (NR) and approximations (post-Newtonian and other) are the only ways to predict gravitational waves. $\endgroup$
    – wdb
    Apr 6, 2016 at 14:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.