Discovering the fundamental laws of the Universe: the EGO European observatory and Agilent Technology

The intriguing word “Ego“: you may be aware that in Latin, “Ego” means “I.” However, this term has taken on many different meanings throughout history, and a new fascinating one has recently been added to the list.

In psychoanalysis, for example, “Ego” represents the first consciousness. It is the part of your mind that acts as a bridge between your desires and the outside world. Without it, you’d be a jumble of impulses, unable to make sense of the world around you.

In philosophy, “Ego” is also a hot topic.  Philosophers have been debating about the nature of the “I” for centuries. Is it a constant, unchanging entity, or does it evolve over time? Is it something that can be directly known, or can it only be based on our experiences? These are difficult questions with no simple answers.

But now let’s turn to astronomy, where the term “Ego” has an entirely different meaning. The acronym “EGO” stands for the European Gravitational Observatory, which is located in Italy in a place called Cascina, near Pisa. This observatory is home to Virgo, one of the world’s three largest and most sensitive gravitational wave detectors.

What are gravitational waves?

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by the universe’s most violent events, such as black hole collisions, for instance. They were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, but they were not discovered until 2015. Since then, scientists have worked tirelessly to develop even more sensitive gravitational wave detectors, such as Virgo at EGO.

So, the next time you hear the word “Ego,” remember that it can mean many different things, from the first idea of consciousness to one of the world’s most sensitive gravitational wave detectors. It’s incredible that such a simple word can have such a rich and varied history.  

EGO: Discovering the fundamental laws of the Universe

EGO, the European Gravitational Observatory acronym, hosts Virgo, one of the world’s three largest and most sensitive gravitational wave detectors, located in the italian city, Cascina, near Pisa. 

In January 2023, Professor Massimo Carpinell was appointed as the director of EGO. Virgo is part of a network of gravitational wave observatories that includes two in the United States and one in Japan, currently constituting the basis for gravitational wave observation on Earth. Gravitational waves represent another tool for observing the cosmos.

Multi-messenger astrophysics

Some astronomical phenomena, such as neutron stars merging into each other, are referred to as “multi-messenger events” because their gravitational wave emission is accompanied by other emissions, such as radio waves or particle emission. 

Until 2015, the universe could only be seen through electromagnetic waves or particles that arrived on Earth from far away. However, gravitational waves have now provided us with a new tool for studying the universe. Gravitational waves are the first to reach Earth because they are generated first when these phenomena occur. As a result, we can observe these phenomena first and report them to other observers with different instruments. 

By observing gravitational waves, we have gained fresh insights into the beginnings of the Universe and have been introduced to remarkable physical phenomena such as black holes and neutron stars, which are the final stages in the lives of two different types of stars.

Ultra High Vacuum Technology (UHV) for Virgo, Kagra, and LIGO

Virgo, along with Kagra and LIGO, is one of the world’s three major gravitational wave observatories, and all three rely on Ultra High Vacuum (UHV). This technology is required to maintain a high-quality vacuum environment in order for laser interferometers to detect gravitational waves, and is known as UHV. 

Gravitational wave detectors use different types of vacuum components as vacuum gauges and pumps. Two most common types of vacuum pumps used in gravitational wave detectors are ion pumps and turbo pumps.

Ion pumps are often used to maintain the ultra-high vacuum required in the interferometer arms of gravitational wave detectors such as LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and Virgo. Ion pumps work by ionizing gas molecules in a chamber and then using strong electric fields to attract and trap the ions on a surface, thus removing gas molecules from the chamber.

Turbo pumps are another type of vacuum pump used in gravitational wave detectors. Turbo pumps use a high-speed rotor to compress gas molecules and move them out of the chamber. 

Both ion pumps and turbo pumps are designed to achieve and maintain high levels of vacuum, which is essential for reducing noise and improving the sensitivity of gravitational wave detectors.


Agilent Technology is a provider of such UHV components for creating the low-pressure environment to prevent interference from air molecules or other particles that would otherwise disrupt the gravitational wave detection process. 

Gravitational wave detectors work by using laser interferometry to measure extremely small changes in the distances between mirrors in the interferometer arms caused by passing gravitational waves. These changes in distance are typically on the order of 10-18 meters, which is extremely small. Any gas molecules or particles in the interferometer can scatter the laser light, creating additional noise that can mask the small signal from the gravitational wave.

Agilent Vacuum Technology offers a wide range of vacuum solutions, including dry rough pumps, high-vacuum turbo, high-performance ion pumps, and non-evaporative getter pumps.

Multi-messenger Observations: Hunting for Complex Phenomena with Vacuum Pumps and AI

Gravitational wave observations are not the only way to learn about the universe. Other sources of observation include radio waves, visible light, X-rays, and gamma rays. Multi-messenger observations are a new field of study in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) is crucial. In many cases, the detection of a complex phenomenon is accompanied by background noise, and AI can assist in distinguishing the signal from the noise. The EGO director Carpinelli uses an example to demonstrate his point: when complex or rare phenomena are observed, there is usually background noise present, “similar to a note heard among a cacophony of other sounds.” 

When gravitational waves are combined with other emissions such as radio waves or electromagnetic particles, AI becomes extremely important in their recognition. Multi-messenger observations pose a challenge for scientists because they necessitate the integration of various disciplines such as physics, astronomy, and computer science.

Scientists use artificial intelligence to examine data collected by gravitational wave detectors: this data is simply a series of numbers that must be converted into useful information. AI can be trained to recognize the various sources of gravitational waves. In this way, scientists can pinpoint the origins of these waves in the universe and gain a better understanding of the physics that causes them.

New observation campaign for LIGO, Virgo, and KAGRA: what does the future hold?

In the coming months, LIGO, Virgo, and KAGRA are gearing up for a fresh cycle of observations. These research infrastructures are constantly evolving in order to maintain technological advancement. 

At the moment, the most intriguing technological enhancement phase has just finished, paving the way for an 18-month period of observing gravitational phenomena with improved resolution. This observation period is expected to be six months longer than the previous ones, with the primary goal of detecting new multi-messenger events, such as the merger of neutron stars, which has only been observed once so far. 


The upgraded interferometers are expected to detect more events, with the goal of detecting at least one event per day, a significant increase from the current rate of one or two events per week. Moreover, by keeping track of events more frequently, the signal sources are expected to be catalogued more effectively.

The Gravitational Waves: A Window into the Cosmos Thanks to Vacuum Technology

In summary, the European Gravitational Observatory, or EGO, is home to Virgo, one of the world’s largest and most sensitive gravitational wave detectors, which is part of an international network of gravitational wave observatories. The world’s other two major gravitational wave observatories are LIGO and Kagra.

Agilent Technology is a provider of Ultra High Vacuum Technology (UHV). 

AI will soon play a major role in multi-messenger observations and astrophysics, a new field of study. Artificial Intelligence will identify and classify different sources of gravitational waves, to further the progress of their detection and our understanding of the universe’s physical laws.