LIGO—A Passion for UnderstandingLIGO

Genre: Documentary, short film

Synopsis: Nearly every day we read articles about great, scientific discoveries, and quote science facts we read or hear from friends. We use advanced technology in the palm of our hands that not too long ago was born of a science experiment. When we take a break from our busy lives, we sometimes ponder what lies beyond the tangible universe, out there, among the stars. How many of us have spent time, side-by-side with the researchers and scientists who dedicate their lives to understanding distant, cosmic events?

Inspired by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, funded by the California Institute of Technology LIGO, A Passion for Understanding celebrates the dedication of those who have worked for nearly three decades on a single science experiment. In this film, we witness the installation of instruments designed to prove the last piece of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and come to understand what scientific discovery means for us all.

Set to a fast-paced musical score, this film delivers engaging animations, timelapse photography, and intense, personal interviews from the high, winter desert of Washington State.

Initiated: December 2013 | Watch the Trailer

Status: The 18 minute film premiered at on April 15, 2014.

Read an exclusive interview “The Minds Behind the Film” and an interview with Kai Staats in LIGO Magazine, Issue 5, pages 24-26.

The second film in this series is LIGO Generations

Feedback for the Film

“In addition to a better understanding of g-waves, I like how this sets a new standard for precision. It also demonstrates how diversity of interests trumps diversity of appearance. Great work. Thanks for sharing.” –Gregory Rodgers

“Almost full auditorium, even department outsiders and school teachers (over 70 people). Many undergrads from other departments. Introduction, screening of the movie, applause at the end (of course!) and then long Q&A. Afterward, I was asked for the link by one our our post-docs from Bangladesh; he sent the link to the astronomy club in his hometown!” –Marco Cavaglia, Associate Spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration

“I’m delighted that you enjoyed working with everyone. You’ve put a huge amount of time, energy, and expertise into the whole project, from the filming to editing to promotion. The final product is, in a word, great! I hope to meet you when the second installment gets shot at Livingston.” –David H. Reitze, LIGO Laboratory Executive Director, Caltech

“It was great working with you! I’m so happy I got to be a part of this. It’ll be great to show my kids one day when they don’t believe me :)” –Alex Staley, Graduate Student, Columbia

“It’s really interesting how life turns. While you report having been inspired by our passion, I think it is we who have been inspired by yours. And this at a time when the weight of our endeavor is bearing down on us a bit. Sometimes we lose sight of the significance of the quest we are privileged to be participating in. I am, and I’m sure many of my colleagues are, really grateful for your enthusiastic support as well as your film making skills and general wisdom. I hope you will continue to be a part of our expedition and to keep us informed of your adventures.” –Rick Savage, Scientist, LIGO Hanford

“I watched the documentary yesterday and was impressed. It is so good to see people ‘working in the trenches’ making the case for the importance of LIGO and what it is all about, and they make it very well.” –Kip Thorne, Founding LIGO Physicist

“So, I used the visualization section in my class – just the 3 minute clip showing how gravitational waves are generated, and how LIGO’s interferometer detects them. This morning I popped in for a poster session by CUNY undergrads, since one of them was about LIGO. The student mentioned and highly recommended your film as she discussed her project with the crowd. When asked her more about it, she said she found it at, and that it did an amazing job of explaining how LIGO works – much more clear and informative than anything she could find on LIGO’s site.” –Christina Pease, Astronomer, American Museum of Natural History, New York

“Kai, this is so very cool. Such work you have put into this. The filming is amazing! I still don’t understand everything they are talking about – BUT what comes through is their dedication and love of what they do. I love the interviews. And after viewing this, I have been introduced to an entire new aspect of our world and am grateful for such people with a Passion for Understanding.” –Mom