Information for students visiting LIGO

by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 22 September 2002

I visited the LIGO-Livingston site in both 2001 and 2002 as part of groups of students engaged in research projects. This page is intended to give some useful information for students who plan to visit LIGO on similar projects. Since this information is based on my experience, check with appropriate people to find out about any possible differences.
Program: My group was from the University of Texas at Brownsville. UTB's relativity group is working on data analysis for the LIGO project (among other things). For successive summers now they have obtained grant support to take undergraduate and graduate students to LIGO for one to two month periods. This support was specifically provided by the National Science Foundation's CIRE, or Collaboratives to Integrate Research and Education.

Other students from around the country are also likely to be at LIGO engaged in summer research. Recently most students at LIGO were supported by CalTech's SURF, or Student Undergraduate Research Fellowships.

Location: The LIGO Livingston site is located in the woods north of Livingston, Louisiana. Livingston is on Interstate 12 about halfway between Baton Rouge (to the west) and Hammond (to the east). The entrance of the LIGO site is on Highway 63 about 6 km (4 miles) north of Livingston. LIGO-Livingston has a locator map with directions on their web site.
Housing: UTB's group (and some SURF students) uses student housing at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. Hammond is about 43 km (27 miles) from the LIGO site. Specifically we stay at the Southeastern Oaks student apartment units on the north side of campus; the complex has a web site with pictures and information.

These are apartments which each include a kitchen, living room, and four bedrooms with pairs of bedrooms each sharing a bathroom. Some apartments have only two bedrooms and one bath. The kitchens include a refrigerator (full size), stove, microwave oven, cabinets, and a dining table (some have a dish washer). Some bedrooms have sinks, some don't.

The apartments are pleasant in appearance and relatively new. The apartment complex itself is a gated complex; vehicular access is controlled with a card-operated gate. A security guard mans the gate when not on rounds. With SELU having a small summer enrollment, the complex is largely unoccupied in the summer but there are some SELU students there.

The office at the complex has a laundry room in back (washers and dryers were each $1.00 per load) and a pay phone. (The laundry room was closed for awhile during our last visit, though.)

The top picture at right shows the outside of two of the apartment units; the bottom one shows the interior of a bedroom in one of the units.

Environs: Housing adjoints the Southeastern Louisiana University campus. The campus is in the north part of Hammond surrounded mostly by residential areas. During the school year LSU has about 15,000 students (most commuting from surrounding areas), but enrollment during the summer is very small. Thus, some campus facilities are closed during the summer. Those which are open include the library and its computer lab (both of which we have been allowed to use) and a recreational center (which requires a fee for use). This page on the SELU web site shows a campus map. If you bring your own vehicle you will need to obtain a parking permit from campus police for a nominal fee. Upon arrival you will also need to obtain a visitor ID card from student services.

Hammond has a population of 17,639 (2000 census) and is a relaxing little town, I thought. I enjoyed many walks around town. For an overview map of the city go to this page on the city's web site.

The top picture at right was taken on the SELU campus; the bottom one was taken in a neighborhood in Hammond near SELU.

Transportation: Students can take their own vehicles, but most in our groups rode with UTB faculty (or other students). Daily carpooling between Hammond and LIGO is standard practice.

If you take your own vehicle, figure on the round trip from Brownsville to Hammond plus a daily round trip commute of 86 km (54 miles). Practice to date has been that travel mileage is reimbursed, but after the fact--so you will need to cover this out-of-pocket until you are reimbursed sometime after your return.

Meals and other things: The LIGO site is out in the woods, so the simplest thing to do is take a sack lunch. The LIGO site does have a small kitchen with a microwave, allowing microwavable lunches. Livingston is close enough to go get lunch; it has several places to eat (a country diner, a barbeque restaurant, a hamburger diner).

In Hammond groceries may be found at Albertsons, a WalMart super center, and other locations (no H.E.B.'s). A couple of convenience stores are located within walking distance of Southeastern Oaks. For those needing an ATM machine, some are located on the SELU campus but none very close to the housing units.

You may want to plan on bringing home something from the LIGO gift shop.

Weather and dress: Those of us from Brownsville are accustomed to heat and humidity. Livingston and Hammond periodically have summer rains and thunderstorms (more frequently than for Brownsville in the summer), so be prepared. During my visits in July scattered thunderstorms were nearly a daily occurence.

Dress at the LIGO site is informal (just dress neatly to represent our group well). Some wear shorts, and this fits for outdoor projects. Be aware that the LIGO buildings are air conditioned and are cool; you may even want a sweater while indoors.

The ground around the LIGO site can be muddy, so in case you have a project involving outdoor activities bring a pair of shoes, long pants, etc., that you are willing to use in the mud. Long pants are desirable for protection from brush and insects.

Work activities: Your respective professor/supervisor is the best source for information on this, but here are some generalities. The LIGO staff seeks to involve students in research projects that fit their skill levels. Examples from 2001 for UTB students included computer programming for data analysis, investigation of seismic noise sources, and monitoring of radio noise in the laser operating area. Other projects have included working with lasers to characterize optical properties of materials, setting up seismometer arrays for data gathering, and modeling of mirror vibration modes.

The first time you set foot on the LIGO site you will be instructed on site procedures and safety. If you're curious, some relevant documents are posted on the LIGO web site. A major issue is laser safety.

If you're not familiar with LIGO, you might check with someone for suggested readings before going. If you know your project in advance, reading some relevant articles, etc., in advance may help. Depending on your skill level, you may find it useful to take reference material (like physics books) with you.

At least once a week a member of the scientific staff or a visiting researcher gives a lecture for the students. Lectures from 2001 and 2002 are posted on the LIGO web site (they include some by UTB faculty).

The top picture at right shows part of the laser assembly at LIGO; the second picture shows students attending a lecture in 2001. For more pictures see my LIGO diaries from 2001 and 2002 and LIGO's picture album.

Off-hour activities: Hammond has a shopping mall on the south side of town, with a movie theater nearby. There is one used book store and possibly a new discount book store (things I always look for). Hammond is home of one of the nation's largest alligator farms.

There are a variety of churches in Hammond, for those that attend. I found a suitable church by searching the Internet.

Some students may visit nearby cities on weekends, such as New Orleans or Baton Rouge.

Here is a list of some weekend excursions (some I've done, some I haven't):

  • The D-Day museum in New Orleans.
  • The alligator farm in Hammond.
  • Hiking in Clark Creek State Park just across the Mississippi border.
  • The French Quarter in New Orleans.
  • Local plantation tours.
  • Visting Baton Rouge (I found some bookstores there).

Image credits: Wm. Robert Johnston, © 2001.

© 2001, 2002 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 22 September 2001.
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