Scientists Win Nobel Physics Prize for Discovery of Gravitational Waves


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish are credited with detecting the waves that Albert Einstein predicted a century ago and described as "ripples" in the fabric of the universe.

Kip Thorne, one of three scientists sharing this year's Nobel Physics Prize for their discovery in gravitational waves, says the award is "a win for the human race as a whole".

One half of the prize went to Weiss, born in Berlin and now a US citizen, who is a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne were given the award for their decisive work on that project. Almost a century later, on September 14, 2015, twin LIGO detectors-one in Livingston Parish on LSU property and the other in Hanford, Washington-detected the collision of two black holes over a billion light years away, confirming a major prediction of Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity.

Weiss said the award of the 9 million Swedish crown ($1.1 million) prize was really a recognition of around 1,000 people working on wave detection.

Gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time, captured by space detectors can be used to discover when and how some of the universe's largest black holes were born. Barish then brought the project to completion.

"The 2017 Nobel Laureates have, with their enthusiasm and determination, each been invaluable to the success of LIGO".

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Livingston observatory is located on LSU property and is just 25 miles from the university's main campus.

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That black hole crash was relatively small and extremely far away - so imagine what scientists might start "seeing" in the universe with these kinds of tools?

With the highly sensitive equipment up and running, LIGO was able to pick up the first gravitational wave from a collision between two black holes 1.3bn years ago in deep space.

"This year's prize is about a discovery that shook the world", said the Nobel committee representative Göran K. Hansson during a conference in Stockholm today.

Even though the cataclysmic events which cause gravitational waves are incredibly powerful, the signals are nearly imperceptible by the time they reach earth, requiring extremely sensitive instruments to detect them.

Will said that in the merger of the two black holes that triggered the prize-winning detection, the event gave off more energy in the last two-tenths of a second than all the stars in the visible universe combined emitted during the same period. But with gravitational waves, "you can see these events".

Thorne, a professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology (CIT) produced important work outlining how gravitational wave signals could be identified amidst a sea of other data.

Professor Sheila Rowan, Director of the University of Glasgow's Institute for Gravitational Research, was one of the UK's leads on LIGO and welcomed the Nobel committee's decision.

Below are reactions from Georgia Tech, including School of Physics Professor Laura Cadonati, who serves as deputy spokesperson for the LSC. They also motivated generations of scientists to answer the call to gravitational-wave astronomy and provided the political courage to undertake the task.