gravitational waves: english practice from a scientific breakthrough

the announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves in the universe was described as a monumental scientific breakthrough all over the world. the expression scientific breakthrough is useful to look at, especially if spanish is your first language.

black holes collide
two black holes collide. or maybe a gorilla’s nose. (university of glasgow)

the adjective scientific and scientist, a person who works in science, are both scientífico in spanish.  be sure to make the distinction in english.

breakthrough is similar to advance or discovery.  the phrasal verb equivalent, break through, is part of one of the doors‘ most famous songs, break on through (to the other side).

listen for scientific breakthrough at :15 on this video from bloomberg news. the video starts with emily chang reporting

scientists have recorded the sound of two black holes colliding billions of years ago. the signal was picked up by giant, highly sensitive antennae located in washington state and louisiana.

collide means hit or run into each other. it is the verb equivalent for the noun collision. pick up means detect, find.

fun english practice  richyrocks english on youtube

chang continues

it shows that huge bursts of energy in the universe can alter the flow of time.

bursts of energy are strong impulses, blasts or explosions.

starburst gravitational waves
a candy named after einstein’s gravitational wave theory?

the video also tells us

researchers say the discovery will help us to fully understand gravity, and even learn more about what happened in the big bang.

research is another word that can be tricky between spanish and english.  investigar is spanish for research and investigateinvestigate is like research; both mean trying to find an answer.  but in academic or scientific situations, research is much more commonly used.

fully means completely.

a delighted einstein

and chang closes with a hypothetical situation (2nd conditional)

if albert einstein were here today, i’m sure he’d be delighted to see science finally prove his theory right.

delighted is extremely happy, full of joy. prove means verify scientifically.

while many websites have shown amazement that albert einstein proposed the existence of gravitational  waves 100 years ago, an article by  at gives a more complete picture of the indecision that einstein struggled (fought) with

in 1916, he told karl schwarzschild, the discoverer of black holes, that gravitational waves did not exist, then said they did. in 1936, he and his assistant nathan rosen set out to publish a paper debunking the idea before doing the same flip-flop again.

set out is a phrasal verb that means started, established a goal. debunk means show that it’s false. flip-flop means change opinion. the idea is that einstein changed his mind on gravitational waves several times.

einstein at the beach before the invetion of flip-flops
einstein didn’t live to see the discovery of the gravitational waves he theorized, or the invention of flip-flops

overbye also shares some interesting insight (vision) from dr. rainer weiss, a member of the team that confirmed the existence of the gravitational waves. weiss said, that despite being a retired professor,

his life now was more like that of a graduate student — that is to say, tinkering and making things work.

tinker means make little adjustments, change slightly.

tinkering with a little machine
tinkering with a machine

additionally, the article reveals that three days before their equipment picked up the signal of the gravitational waves, weiss was

horrified to find that the antenna readings were plagued by radio interference.

plagued by indicates a problem.  weiss told his colleagues

that needs to be fixed

be fixed is an excellent example of passive voice. be is an auxiliary, fixed a past participle. who needs to fix the problem (the subject) is not included.

rainer weiss with funny sign
dr. rainer weiss joking around (matt weber)

unfortunately (but actually fortunately) weiss’s colleagues told him it was too late (past the time limit) to try to fix the issue.  dr. weiss recognized hypothetically (3rd conditional), that if they had shut down their monitoring systems for repair they would have missed the gravitational wave passing the earth.

subscribe to richyrocks english on youtube (minnesota, usa public radio) showed much respect for the curiosity and determination of the scientists who found the gravitational waves. their headline about the discovery reads

In scientific breakthrough, a ‘win’ for the value of wonder

wonder in this case can be understood as both asking questions and fascination/admiration.  the television series the wonder years is another example of wonder meaning fascination.

the accompanying article on, written by bob collins adds this perspective

we also have to marvel at the patience and persistence of scientists who are willing to spend their entire lives seeking something, knowing they may never find it.

marvel, similarly, means it is something that inspires awe; it’s marvelous, incredible. like the characters in marvel comics.

deadpool marvelous ass
did u marvel at deadpool’s great ass in the movie?

what are your feelings about the discovery of gravitational waves?  share them under leave a reply




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